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WeAreSC mailbag (9-8 edition)

by Garry Paskwietz

In this week’s edition of the mailbag there are lots of questions about the Trojans loss to Alabama, including plenty of pointed discussions about the USC offense.


One of the many failures on display last Saturday was the lack of physicality and toughness from the OL to be able to open holes for the running game. I guess I’m wondering, can we realistically expect them to conjure up the toughness that Helton claims they’re instilling in practice but that was so utterly lacking against Alabama, or is physicality really an attitude that a player is either born with or he’s not?

I don’t think we know the answer yet in regards to the physicality efforts of the offensive line and the running game. Helton has talked a lot about developing that style but in the three games since he was named head coach it hasn’t shown on the field, and the team has gone 0-3 in the process. I think it’s the biggest disconnect we’ve seen from Helton in terms of what he said he wanted to do and what we’ve seen to this point.


Why did Tee, Tyson and Clay not have any adjustment for getting Juju open while being double-teamed all night? Why not putting Juju in motion or in the slot? Why do passing game adjustments have to wait for the next game? Does the staff not have the collective brain power to make in-game adjustments? Do we have a draw play or screen pass in our offense to slow down a relentless defense? Why do you think a 3-wide receiver, no Fullback formation is a run-first, power formation?

You are asking the same questions that Helton got asked after practice this week, and here was his quote regarding getting touches for JuJu, “I think a little bit of being able to move him around, whether it’s motioning, putting him in the slot a little bit more, getting him on safeties and linebackers rather than the corner, things like that we can do, and we will do moving forward”. As you say, not sure why that wasn’t more a part of the game plan for Alabama, especially since you knew they had terrific defensive backs and we’re likely to double him. And your other questions about the offensive game plan are valid too because it seemed like the Trojans didn’t have any counters to what Alabama did.


Moving forward, do you think this 2016 USC team can play the physical smash mouth football that was envisioned?

I certainly hope so. I think that style fits this personnel and it’s what Clay Helton said he wanted to do.

The Lizard King

What did you think of going for a FG with 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and down by 35? Talk about throwing in the towel…

Not the call I would have made.


Garry do you think it would help the offense if we threw the ball to the RB more?

Yes. I think Justin Davis in particular could be a good option with some screen passes.


Helton said they discussed bringing in Sam to see how he would fare against a number one defense. Did they see what they wanted to see and is this experiment over or did he just push the panic button? He said he would not rotate QBs but is he having second thoughts if he personally called the plays for Sam?

Even since naming Browne as the starter, Helton has been pretty consistent in saying that Darnold would see action in certain situations so I don’t view it as an “experiment”. Helton said again yesterday that Darnold would see time this weekend primarily in short yardage or red zone situations.


From a purely objective standpoint, how many weekly full-contact practices does USC hold compared to other teams?

Tuesday practice sessions are usually in full pads and they are the most full contact. Wednesday is usually shorts and shoulder pads, there is still contact but not as much as a Tuesday. Not sure where that compares to schedules for other schools.


Would a mobile QB have helped against the Bama rush?

I don’t think you can just say a “mobile” quarterback would have helped, it would have to be a very good mobile quarterback. That Tide pass rush was as overwhelming as I can remember seeing.


How many of USC’s starters, particularly on the offensive line, were recruited by Alabama? I know Viane was. I’m a little frustrated by the assertion that USC just doesn’t have the talent to compete with Alabama. I suspect a great many of USC’s starters were national recruits that could have accepted offers from Alabama, Ohio State, and everybody else. Which means we have development and scheme problems more than talent problems. Agreed?

It’s not a question of talent. Damien Mama (photo above) and Chuma Edoga were also offered by Alabama, and all the starters along the offensive line had impressive offer sheets too. And there are plenty of other players throughout the SC roster who were also national recruits. But there have definitely been rising questions about player development in recent years, especially when compared to the standard that the program has shown in the past. I think you can draw a direct correlation to the sanction years and the turnover with five head coaches in the last six years.


Many of us acquired a greater appreciation of Kessler after watching Browne on Saturday. Where Kessler held onto the ball to a fault, at least he hung in there and tried to make plays. At the first sign of any trouble, Max would immediately throw the ball away. The receivers were not getting open, but he never gave them time to either. Yes, I understand that the line wasn’t doing its job but still, I thought Max should show more moxie in the pocket. Garry, do you think Max has been taught to avoid sacks at all cost, or did he seem a bit gun shy back there? If so, do you think this is something that can be corrected?

I’m not going to judge either quarterback too much on that game because of the duress they were under all game long. And in regards to Max, if there is any knock I’ve heard on him it’s that he holds the ball too long sometimes, so that wouldn’t fit with what you saw in this game either.


Do you feel this offensive line is a personnel mis-match for the scheme that USC would like to run? Banner and Wheeler out on an island doesn’t seem to be a recipe for success. Alabama made clear what we’ve seen hints of for the past couple of years. But put them in a Stanford-type of offense and you could have a totally different story.

We talked about this in the WeAreSC podcast this week with Jeremy Hogue and Mike Lamb, two former USC offensive linemen, and both agree the personnel for this OL group would seem to fit with a downhill running style of offense, one that would work with the QB under center and a fullback or multiple tight ends. Here’s a link to the podcast.


Based on current practice and onfield results would you start Falah over Toa?

Toa hasn’t practiced the last two days due to a knee injury so there may not be a choice. I would still start Toa if healthy but Nico has shown me a lot over spring and fall practices.


Garry: Why did Callaway not adjust the blocking schemes at halftime or even earlier in the 1st half and narrow the splits, stop the cut blocking that was causing guys to be tentative on double team assignments to avoid chop block penalty? What’s wrong with straight ahead running too btw? 23 blast…oh wait you need a fullback, forget that question. KB

Kevin, you share the primary concern that Marcus Allen had coming out of the game, the lack of offensive adjustments and “it was troubling that we didn’t run the ball”. He said it was primarily due to the lack of execution on the line, one of his quotes during the Trojans Live radio show on Tuesday was “there is no execution when you can’t block up front” and he would definitely prefer a downhill running element. You can watch the interview here


Gary, what (if anything) has been different about our practices this week after the Alabama loss?

The two practices this week were pretty spirited, lots of energy. It remains to be seen how that will translate to Saturday but at the very least it was good to see as part of the response to what happened in Dallas.

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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