In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.
The transition: No question that freshman JT Daniels (photo above) was Clay Helton’s quarterback in 2018, and JT certainly had his moments. However, with Kliff Kingsbury coming in with apparently full authority to control the offensive system and quarterback evaluations (Clay Helton will not doubt have his input), it figures that current Trojan quarterbacks Daniels, Jack Sears, and Matt Fink may once again be competing for the starting spot. When you’re 5-7 with no bowl game appearance in 2018 and your offense can’t score in the second half (a coaching play-calling problem as well as a players’ execution problem), every rock must be reexamined.
IMHO: A spring ball quarterback competition would be the right thing to do out of respect for new OC and QB coach Kliff Kingsbury. Some say that JT Daniels ran a similar Kingsbury system at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, but Jack Sears might be the best equipped to run the Kingsbury system where the quarterback – by Kingsbury’s own admission – can extend plays and look down field, which reminds us of Jack Sears’s standout performance against ASU. With an “Air Raid” passing system ready for centerstage, where does that leave Matt Fink, who is more a runner than a passer…although his passing looked very much improved through the course of last season? Fink and Sears have the athletic ability to extend plays like Kingsbury likes to see in his quarterbacks. Maybe in the Kingsbury system, Daniels will too.
IMHO – Part 2: Perhaps it will be Matt Fink who will be the biggest surprise in the spring under Kingsbury’s offense…and the plot thickens as it should. In last season’s offense, Daniels was the man, but might he not be the man in a different or adjusted system? Spring practice can’t come fast enough for answers, or will Clay Helton say “my hands are tied” in defense of opening up the QB competition? If they are tied, tied to what and for what?
FYI: As mentioned, Kliff Kingsbury likes his starting quarterback to be able to extend plays and look down field. As a possible glimpse into the future, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei junior quarterback and USC commit Bryce Young lived up to Kingsbury’s vision of a visionary quarterback by throwing for three touchdowns (18-of-25 passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns – one to fellow Trojans WR recruit Bru McCoy), as Santa Ana Mater Dei defeated storied Concord De La Salle, 35-21, for the CIF State Championship Open Division bowl game on Saturday night at Cerritos College.
Kliff said it: In a recent video released by the Trojans’ athletic department, new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said, “We try to take what the defense gives us more than anything. There’s a misconception that we’re just going to throw it around ball around and air it out. We going to run the ball and be physical and try to make as many first downs and score as many points as possible and do whatever it takes to win.” Remember this Kingsbury quote for future reference: “We’re going to run the ball and be physical.” Isn’t that what Clay Helton has been saying the past three seasons?
Lessons of Pete Carroll: Remember when Pete Carroll used to get so on edge when the media and fans referred to the Trojans’ offense as the Norm Chow offense? Carroll corrected that perception by saying it was the USC offense and reminded the masses that he dictated to Chow there would be more running. Could history repeat itself in the future when the media and the Trojans faithful refer to the Trojans’ offense as the Kliff Kingsbury offense, only to be corrected by Clay Helton and reminded it’s the “Trojans offense”? Any bets that Kingsbury’s mug in some form is on the cover of some of those regional football magazines in June?
The dirty little secret: On its surface, all this Kliff Kingsbury hype appears justified, but nowhere was there any announcement about how long his contract is with USC. What happens if Kingsbury has great success and gets NFL feelers or a college program comes calling after one season with the Trojans? What happens if Kingsbury becomes a USC “one hit wonder” and bolts to the NFL or another college head job? What becomes of the Trojans’ offense than? It’s a safe bet that a majority of Trojan fans and probably Lynn Swann would not be overly excited seeing Clay Helton return to play-calling, and then go out and hire himself a “puppet” offensive coordinator. You can bet that Swann will have his say if Kingsbury does depart after one successful season.
IMHO: If Kliff Kingsbury does become one-and-done, some Trojan fans might say it’s okay because Kliff did what he was brought in to do, which is fix the offense. However, what happens if the Trojans end up 7-5, the offense looks good, and the defense sucks? Does that defensive accountability and lack of defensive success cost Helton his job? It’s a lot to consider, but it’s a possibility, and you’d be kidding yourself if you don’t think that Kingsbury – if the offense is successful in 2019 – would not a major head coaching candidate for the Trojans in 2020.
The elephant in the room: That elephant is called the Trojans’ defense. What happens if the Trojans’ offense does come to life as most are hoping, but the defense continues to be an up-and-down liability to the point that the offense has to score in the upper 30s to win? By keeping DC Clancy Pendergast as chief architect of Helton’s defense – albeit some defensive position changes – the defense is still the responsibility of Clay Helton who apparently has decided to keep his current DC.
FYI: For those keeping score, it appears that Mark Carrier, the former Trojans’ All-America safety, NFL star and coach, isn’t at the top of Pendergast’s or Helton’s list to be secondary coach. There must be something there that is not for public knowledge. Carrier would bring discipline, knowledge, and energy to the Trojans’ defense. Could this be a case of being overqualified or a general threat to Pendergast’s control?
FYI – Part 2: Clancy Pendergast’s defense gave up 30 points or more five times in 2018, which included more than 35 points four times. Coach P’s defense finished the season allowing 27.0 per game.
From the press box…
In memory: Former Trojans’ legendary All-America defensive end and NFL performer Tim Rossovich passed away late this past week. In terms of USC football, the man was so symbolic of the greatness of the 1967 national champions under head coach John McKay. Rossovich, from Mountain View, California, was an absolute stud, an animal on the playing field. Having had the pleasure of watching his USC career during my teens, what an icon of toughness and intimidation. His exploits off the field, especially during his USC fraternity days, almost matched his identity on the field. Old No. 88, who died after a long illness at 72-years-old, became an actor after his playing days. Our prayers go out to his family.
Divisions: It’s hard to imagine that both USC and UCLA did not go to a bowl game this season. It’s easier to understand the Bruins situation and harder to believe in hindsight that the Bruins could upset the Trojans this season.
Divisional strength: It should be noted that of the six teams in the Pac-12 North, five of them will be playing in a bowl game. As for the Southern Division, just two teams – Utah and ASU – are going bowling. If the Trojans had played in the Northern Division and that division were a seven-team grouping, the Men of Troy would have come in 6th place ahead of Oregon State.
IMHO: There is a reasonable argument that teams that go 6-6 should not be reward by playing in a bowl game.
Further review: If the Trojans had beaten Notre Dame in the final regular season game, they would have finished 6-6. For any team, being a .500 team should not be a reward for no even having a winning record. As bad as it is for the Trojans, how many fans would have been fired up to pay for all the expenses of a bowl game to see a 6-6 USC team play? Probably the exception would have been the Las Vegas Bowl, which is certainly a destination that doesn’t need a football game to sell a visit. The Trojans in the Cheez-it or Redbox Bowl? No thanks and we probably speak for most USC fans.
The post-game show…
Congrats: Inside linebacker Cameron Smith, safety Marvell Tell, and offensive right tackle Chuma Edoga have accepted invitations to the 70th annual Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, on Jan.26. The game will be televised on the NFL Network. But no Iman Marshall? After all, Clay Helton said Marshall recently that “Biggie” was playing at an All-American level. Marshall, a senior, never made first-team All-Pac-12.
Say it ain’t so: A national icon in the world of college sports – especially USC football – it was shocking when it was announced that The Song Girls would no longer be performing at USC basketball home games. Instead of the iconic USC Song Girls, the leader of the USC athletic department has apparently ordered The Song Girls out and the alternative entertaining Dance Force in. Who goofed, I’ve got to know, so help me Jim Healey.
Say it ain’t so – Part 2: With attendance at USC men’s basketball games not exactly knocking down the turnstiles, why dispense The Song Girls? Why not share the stage during alternative timeouts? What next, the Trojans Marching Band being replaced at football games by a DJ?
Final celebration: The Trojans’ football awards ceremony, which will honor the 2018 team, will be this Wednesday, December 12.
Senior salute: With all the previous week’s turmoil with coaching changes and the final seasonal record nothing to crow about, the Trojans’ football awards ceremony should be able to turn some of the negative into positives by honoring the departing seniors. They certainly deserve the recognition of perseverance, and they did accomplish some very worthy accomplishments like a Pac-12 title in 2017 and a dramatic victory over Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game.
In memory: Santa Fe Springs (Calif.) St. Paul High’s legendary football coach Marijon Ancich, one of the CIF Southern Section’s winningest coaches of all time, passed away Saturday night from a stroke. We got to know Marijon and his coaching kids through our walk through the football world, and Marijon was gentleman off the field and a true warrior on it. Nobody ever wanted to play St. Paul and later Tustin (Calif.) High because Ancich’s teams were so physical. Former USC All-American and Los Angeles Rams offensive guard Bill Bain played for Ancich as did former Trojans’ defensive back Marcell Almond, who also played in the NFL. Both were members of USC national championship teams (Bain in 1974 and Almond in 2003).
The last word: With the season over, here’s the latest real time video on the Coliseum renovation project: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation