Spring Camp is over for USC football, and no QB depth chart has been set. Is it crazy to think that Jack Sears might actually start?
USC football has concluded its Spring Camp, and we’ve got some insight into how things will be working in 2019. It was just enough insight to be hopeful about some of the early enrollees and returning talent, but far from enough to settle the anxieties of a fan base wondering if the program will bounce back in 2019.
For me, the biggest point of worry going into 2019 is the offensive line. However, no one really wants to get deep and dirty into offensive line play. And, there is no real way to judge how well the offensive line is going to do until they hit other people.
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So, let’s take a look at the second biggest worry for USC football going into 2019: quarterback play.
Now, many fans have checked out on this battle. Some, because they feel that JT Daniels is going to win the job no matter what. Others, because of the new offensive system that is going to help solidify quarterback play overall, no matter who is at the helm.
For me though, I can’t look away because USC football, when at its best, is built on competition. That did not appear to be the case in 2018, and if USC is going to stop its mass exodus of players and reinstall its “iron sharpens iron” mentality all jobs must be up for competition.
If Daniels is the starter and wins the competition, so be it. But am I crazy for thinking Jack Sears should start?
I know what you’re thinking. It’s something to the effect of “Why does this guy hate JT Daniels?” or “Why does he want Sears to play so badly?!”
First, I do not hate Daniels. By all accounts he seems to be a fine young man. I think the disconnect is because I didn’t closely follow his high school career. Being in Northern California, there’s not much coverage, so I only saw high school highlight reels. And by rule, you take those with a grain of salt, because of it’s high school.
Daniels was never the guy I thought was going to drop in and save USC after Sam Darnold left. So, when he didn’t show any signs that he was going to be the next big thing, I wasn’t as heavily invested as others. It was easy for me to ponder whether USC could do better at the position, instead of placing all the blame on surrounding circumstances.
Make no mistake though, things around Daniels were terrible, from the offensive line to play calling to the overall offensive philosophy. Those are not factors that count against Daniels.
It simply boils down to the idea that USC may have a high floor with Daniels at the helm, but the ceiling is higher with Sears.
To help get an idea of how to better convey my Sears stance, I went back and looked at three games: Daniels’ first start against UNLV, Sears’ first and only start against Arizona State and North Texas’ game against Arkansas from 2018, to get an idea of how Graham Harrel’s offense might look versus a Power 5 team.
The first thing that becomes clear in the first starts for both Daniels and Sears is the staff was trying to protect both of their young quarterbacks. You can see that the staff had a little more faith in Daniels as he was allowed to throw a little earlier and a little more often. While the throws Daniels was making weren’t difficult ones, he was accurate for the most part and looked like he had a grasp of the offense.
Throws you could argue set Daniels apart from the Sears include the throw he made to Amon-Ra St. Brown on a deep post, which was a beautiful touch pass, and the deep ball to Trevon Sidney, which was a difficult throw because the pocket wasn’t clean and he had to use a lot of arm strength.
However, Sears made comparable throws against Arizona State, which were just as impressive. The first being the bomb to Tyler Vaughns, which was dropped. Go back and look at that throw, there were defenders at Sears’ feet and he put it on the money. The second being the throw to Vaughns at the end of the game. Yes, it was close to “garbage time,” but that throw had to be made to keep any chance of a win alive, and Sears made it.
Even if you go through the remaining games, I don’t believe you will find a throw that Daniels made that you can definitively say Sears could not. That is the crux of my initial argument from last season: If they were comparable throwing the ball, which they are, you needed to take advantage of Sears ability to be dynamic running with the ball.
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Fast forward to 2019, and this seems like a moot point with the Air Raid system. There have been plenty of statue quarterbacks who have put up huge numbers inside in the Air Raid. However, when you think of the most successful Air Raid offenses and quarterbacks in the last couple of years, those guys were mobile like Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes, and Kyler Murray. All were legitimate threats to pull the ball and run, which not only opens things up for the rest of their teammates, but also makes these offenses much more difficult to defend in the red zone.
Sears can provide that extra dimension, which Daniels cannot. I think that athletic difference should garner Sears a serious shot at this job.
I can also take solace knowing that Graham Harrell understands that as well.
Going back and looking at North Texas’ signature 44-17 win over Arkansas, it is clear Mason Fine has a skill set very similar to Sears. No, Harrell wasn’t having Fine run around, but he did use him on a QB sweep in the red zone for a touchdown, while also using him to keep Arkansas’ linebackers honest on the run plays. Those are small things that a non-mobile quarterback simply cannot do.
In conclusion, yes, Daniels should be the leader in the clubhouse coming out of Spring Camp. He’s gotten the most reps with the first team since 2018 and has the most in-game experience. But the fact that Daniels didn’t perform to a level where we didn’t think there needed to be QB positional battle, plus news that the battle will continue through fall, means it’s closer than it really should be.
All I’m saying is, Sears deserves a real look, and if Spring Camp has shown anything, it’s that Sears is getting his chance. Which, if you think about it, isn’t that crazy.