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IMHO Sunday: Progressing

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.

The view: Okay, do you want it straight or do you want it with a dose of cardinal and gold colored glasses? Thought so – the former. Well, the quarterback performances on Saturday were improved – not Leinart or Palmer or Darnold improved – but improved nonetheless. Rebounding from an early pick-six interception to DB Jonathan Lockett, redshirt freshman QB Jack Sears threw some nice deep TD balls, including one 85-yard connection to speedy wide receiver Velus (pronounced VAY-lus) Jones Jr. (photo above), while sophomore Matt Fink, who was turnover free, was efficient in short pass tosses. While the quarterback performances were not All-Pac-12 level by any means, it was satisfactory progress considering the hindrance of erratic and consistently high center snaps, which put additional pressure on the two QBs trying to maintain their poise and execution. And, perhaps that poise was even more challenged considering that incoming frosh sensation QB JT Daniels, who figures to be right in the mix come August, was in attendance watching the proceedings.

The view – Part 2: The Trojans’ offensive line, concentrating on running between the tackles and being more physical, became more productive as the morning wore on or should we say the defensive line wore down with more snaps, and you had to love the way that tailbacks Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai ran with authority and smarts. Along the offensive line, Clayton Johnston played the left tackle spot because sophomore Austin Jackson was in street clothes. No explanation for Jackson’s non-participation was given by Clay Helton in his post-scrimmage scrum with the media. It was refreshing and productive to see the Trojans hurry up to the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situation and run the play with the quarterback under center. It had a direct effect on the defense, which was obviously unable to quickly read and react. More of that would be welcome in the fall.

The view – Part 3:
Defensively, the Trojans didn’t look as dominate on the D-line as they had in previous practices or earlier abbreviated scrimmages, and that was due to that fact that Saturday was a true scrimmage, which tested conditioning. The undisciplined play on the D-line was a bit of an eye-opener. The D-line was overly aggressive in not reading the snap of the ball but anticipating the snap or snap count, all of which led to encroachment flags. D-line coach Kenechi Udeze quickly grew tired of it and nearly threw his hat to the ground after yet another undisciplined off-sides call, yelling in exasperation, “Read the snap!” On the positive side, there was the play of corners Iman Marshall and Jonathan Lockett, both of whom were exceptional and snagged takeaways, and the Trojans looked good at the safety spots. Another huge impact player continues to be true freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga, who is starting to draw comparisons to Trojans’ Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu at the same stage their respective careers.

IMHO: Based on how I saw the team respond to a game-like scrimmage on Saturday and hindsight being 20-20, the Trojans might have been best served had they had the same number scrimmage plays and length of scrimmage time last weekend, as well. Saturday brought out improvement from the quarterbacks, the offensive line showed it could use the running-between-the-tackles repetitions. As for the defense, it was given a physical and mental challenge in ways that doesn’t happen in less intense practices and limited game-like situations. Of course, it’s a matter of coaching philosophy to try and avoid injury during the spring, but Saturday proved there’s nothing that can simulate a game like a game-like scrimmage, and a second scrimmage earlier, IMHO, would have been advantageous. Next Saturday’s final spring practice day in Loker Track and Field Stadium (noon) before Pac-12 Network cameras figures to be more of a semi-contact exercise or “thud” tackling compared to yesterday’s all-out hitting and tackling. The Trojans won’t want to show much during the televised practice that could be picked up by early opposition opponents.

The Oregon Trial: As mentioned above, the play of true freshman safety Talanoa Hufanga and the memories of former safety Troy Polamalu were the subject of discussion after Saturday’s final whistle. It’s ironic that both players come from small towns in Oregon, located in smaller population centers. Hufanga is from Corvallis and Polamalu from Tenmile. And if the early play of Hufanga is any early indication, the Trojans may have another superstar in the making.

Humble Harv: Is there a more entertaining banquet speaker/broadcaster/former football coach out there than former UNLV head coach Harvey Hyde? The coach is still on top of his game, and it’s always a blast to converse during his appearances at spring ball or on his radio show. Asked to describe in one word his impressions after Saturday’s scrimmage, Harvey said, “Progress,” which pretty much sums up the day’s activities.

The Drevno factor: The Trojans look much better in their running game and that could be the input of Tim Drevno, who is not only Troy’s running backs coach but also helping with the offensive line. Don’t for a minute think that current offensive line coach Neil Callaway isn’t doing the job because he is, but it’s also possible both coaches agree with – Helton’s blessing – on the way the run blocking should be taking place. Drevno, who was once the Trojans’ offensive line coach before departing to Michigan with mentor Jim Harbaugh, appears to have had an effect on the Trojans taking snaps under center in short yardage situation.

From the press box…

Rollinson speaks: Legendary Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High head football coach and former USC wide receiver Bruce Rollinson (1971) was in attendance at practice this week and was gracious enough to allow us to get some general impressions regarding his former superstar quarterback JT Daniels, who many believe can eventually win the starting job when he enrolls in August. One beautiful thing about “Rollo” is that he answers you directly and honestly and is classy in his analytical responses.

Rollinson speaks – Part 2: Asked about what people don’t know regarding his former superstar quarterback JT Daniels, Rollinson, also a former Mater Dei grad, said, “You know, let’s talk academics first. He’s the only boy I know that has 10 classes right now (to complete a senior year). We have enough problems with a regular class load, and he’s doing great, he’s going great!”

Rollinson speaks – Part 3: “Athletically, you know he (Daniels) has got all the throws. I have had some great ones with (Matt) Leinart, and (Matt) Barkley, Colt (Brennan), and go all the way back to the 90s with Billy Blanton. He just has the ability to see the field, make the throws, and then the ultimate thing is he’s a football nut case. I mean he loves it! Like I told people, I should just buy him a coaching shirt, you know.”

Rollinson speaks – Part 4: “His (Daniels) passion is video, his passion is concepts, and his passion is to dissect, so you put all those things together. You know, I wouldn’t recommend to any other kid to decide to do what he did. In all honesty, when he decided to do what he did when it happened (graduate a year ahead of schedule), I didn’t know what he was talking about. You know, if there is anybody that can pull it off, it’s him. I think the Trojans fan are in for a great ride with him at the helm.”

Rollinson speaks – Part 5: Asked whether he thinks that JT Daniels can come in and compete for the starting job this summer, Rollinson said, “I tell every kid that goes to college that my expectation is to see you start. Now make good decisions and play hard and listen to your coaches. My expectations are that he (Daniels) will step into the competition, and then, you know, it’s up to the Trojans’ staff to make a decision. To me, it’s best guy goes, and nobody will out-study him. I mean he spent the whole week up here (USC), so he’ll be prepared for it.”

A Dallas draft: A couple of weeks ago I asked Clay Helton if he’d be in Dallas with Sam Darnold for the NFL draft. Clay said he would go if asked. Well, it was announced this week that the coach would indeed be with his quarterback for the draft, which begins on Thursday evening, April 26.

The post-game show…

Here come the rankings: In its first Top 25 poll for 2018, The Sporting News has placed the Trojans at No. 12. TSN wrote, “Sam Darnold is leaving for the NFL, so the focus will be on the quarterback battle among JT Daniels, Matt Fink, Jack Sears and Holden Thomas. Running back Stephen Carr should have a breakout season, however, and coach Clay Helton has reestablished a winning culture within the program.” No, not exactly in-depth reporting, but still a nice shout out to walk-on quarterback Holden Thomas.

More Holden: IMHO, if you didn’t know who was whom at quarterback thus far in spring ball, you might believe that redshirt sophomore Holden Thomas (Pacific Palisades, Ca./Brentwood) is as strong candidate as the scholarship competitors. In other words, Holden certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself and quite frankly has looked pretty efficient. Yeah, he mostly throws against the third unit defense, but he still doesn’t embarrass himself.

BTW: The Sporting News has the Washington Huskies ranked as the No. 11 team in the country. I know what you’re think, where’s Stanford? The Cardinal are ranked No. 14, and if you ask me, I am not so sure that Stanford and the return of All-America tailback Bryce Love deserves a lot more love than that. In fact, I might be inclined to rank Stanford above both the Huskies and the Trojans at the present time.

In memory: I must tell you I am in shock over learning of the recent passing of former star UCLA running back James McAlister, 66, due to cancer. You might wonder why we would mention a deceased Bruin, but James was a prep SoCal legend in late 1960s. Some believe, like me, had he elected to be a John McKay I-formation tailback and not a UCLA wishbone fullback, he would have been right there for a Heisman Trophy. McAlister was part of an explosive Blair backfield along with speedy Kermit Johnson, and together they were known as the “Blair Pair.”

More memory: James McAlister, who would eventually be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, was sophomore running back-linebacker at Pasadena (Calif.) Blair High when they scrimmaged my beloved 1967 Alhambra Moors at Moor Field. I remember one of our AHS coaches, the late Jim McAllister, saying after the scrimmage, “When that kid is a senior, he’s going to be the best player in the United States.” And he was right! At 6-2, 210, he was a real-deal beast.

Final memory: McAlister, also a record-setting long jumper, was part of a 1969 Blair CIF 4-A team (13-0) under former Trojan assistant Pete Yoder that defeated La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat 28-27, which featured former Trojans QB and WR Pat Haden and J.K McKay, respectively. It was a helleva game we witnessed in the Coliseum.

The last word: And now the latest in how the dirt turns or better known as the Coliseum renovation project. IMHO Sunday presents the latest Coliseum website camera update: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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