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IMHO Sunday: Will the real USC quarterback, please stand up

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

IMHO scrimmage summation: With all the attention turned to the Trojans’ quarterback competition, maybe USC head coach Clay Helton and his offensive staff know who the Trojans’ starting quarterback is already. Then again, maybe USC head coach Clay Helton and his offensive staff don’t know who the Trojans’ starting quarterback is already, which quite candidly seems a bit of a stretch. Either way, Saturday’s Scrimmage No. 2 did little to sort things out and perhaps created more questions than answers. There was a reasonable assumption that if true freshman J.T. Daniels came remotely close to duplicating his sensational Scrimmage No. 1 performance, it would be competition “game over.” Well, with no touchdowns passes, Daniels (7 of 9 passes) didn’t come close to duplicating his scintillating Scrimmage No. 1 performance (4 TDs), and of the other two quarterback competitors – redshirt freshman Jack Sears (2 of 2) and sophomore Matt Fink (3 of 9 ) – only Sears could provide a meaningful, late scrimmage drive, culminating in a QB keeper for a short TD run. Honestly speaking, the vertical passing game was basically non-existent…possibly by design.

IMHO scrimmage summation – Part 2: With much of the starting offensive line – namely the top three tackles – either limited or out of action, it got down to appearances of rising redshirt freshman Jalen McKenzie and intriguing JC transfer Bernard Schirmer at the tackle spots. As for the wide receiver unit, they were basically under wraps in Scrimmage No. 2 as opposed to Scrimmage No.1. Perhaps it was the quarterback reads or maybe not, only the film sessions will know for sure. Added up, the offensive part of the scrimmage could be best described as bland, underwhelming, and/or strictly conservative. It left those in attendance scratching their collective heads over what was originally hyped during the week as critical Preseason Game No. 2, a session that was supposed to shed greater light on the three quarterbacks and the offense in general. It didn’t. Perhaps, however, the goals and objectives were misunderstood by the onlookers. It’s entirely possible that Clay Helton and his staff accomplished exactly what they wanted to see.

IMHO scrimmage summation – Part 3: As for the defense, they certainly went after each quarterback, and one must say that the overall tackling was pretty darn good as was the intensity. Then again, it better be with the Trojans’ second game at Stanford and vaunted Cardinal All-America tailback Bryce Love, a true Heisman frontrunner. Like the offense, the Trojans’ defense, too, had some players missing due to injury like linebackers Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, but Clancy Pendergast’s unit showed no signs of slacking off or mercy without its two celebrated starters. The question, of course, becomes is this defense that good or is the offense still very much a work in progress? The defense didn’t face much of the Trojans’ anticipated starting offensive line, so D-line more or less controlled the line of scrimmage.    

IMHO scrimmage summation – Part 4 – offense: With the QB puzzle unsettled, it appears that next weekend’s “mock game” may be the decider in the great QB competition. Of course, what this all could mean is that whomever the starter against UNLV, they’ll have a just a week – actually three true practice days – to get in a first-team comfort zone. Clay Helton said earlier in training camp that the whole QB deal might go down to the final week, and Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t do much to change the old ball coach’s “gut feeling.” As for the other elements of the offense, one would have to say that one important positive takeaway was the signal callers got rid of the ball earlier than the first scrimmage, which was a Saturday point of emphasis. Again, all the available running backs ran hard, and there was a glimpse of promise from true freshman wide receiver Devon Williams, who had a 35-yard reception.

IMHO scrimmage summation – Part 5 – defense: Certainly, Clay Helton was pleased with what he saw on defense as the Trojans’ secondary was active although not really challenged. However, we especially liked the play of true freshman linebacker Kana’i Mauga and sophomore linebacker Levi Jones, who was particularly effective in pursuit. Again, in all fairness to the secondary, they weren’t exactly tested by any of the three quarterbacks consistently, as the Trojans elected to concentrate on their running game.

IMHO final scrimmage summation: If Clay Helton’s goal was to get the quarterbacks to get rid of the ball sooner to avoid a sack, mission accomplished. If defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s goal was assignment football, perfect tackling, and an intense attitude, mission accomplished. And if a goal of resting the vets and playing younger and inexperienced players to gain experience, mission accomplished. With all this in mind, maybe those were the three goals for Scrimmage No. 2, but it still didn’t answer the No. 1 question: Who’s going to be the quarterback? Point of information, it should be noted that next Saturday’s “mock game” will be closed to both the media and the general public.

IMHO FWIW: If pressed on the issue, we’d say the ranking order for the quarterbacks going into next week are (1) J.T. Daniels (2) Jack Sears (3) Matt Fink (photo above). Daniels uses the entire field as his playground, Sears has improved immensely and is a true running threat, and Fink  has improved his vertical passing and has already exhibited in a game that his legs can take him to the house.

El Capitan: Usually, the Trojans’ football captains are named at the Salute to Troy extravaganza. To the best of our knowledge, the 2018 captains were not announced on Friday night, but it wouldn’t be hard to envision the captains being LBs Cameron Smith and Porter Gustin, S Marvell Tell lll, DB Iman Marshall, and OL Toa Lobendahn. Where does it say you can only select four captains when five this season seems appropriate? Hey, throw in DB Ajene Harris for consideration, as well.

From the press box…

The tour: We had the opportunity to take Wednesday morning’s Coliseum renovation update media tour, an outing that provided a press conference, facility examination, and a “beam signing ceremony.” It was all very informative, positive, and answered some important questions for both the media and fans. In reference to the fans, it was highly emphasized that fans should arrive very early for games, become familiar with the new Coliseum entrance points (listed on game tickets), and come prepared to know what and where the parking options are.

Word of advice: The media was also told during the press conference that fans should strongly consider riding the Metro line on game days, and again emphasis was placed on arriving early. For those Trojans season ticket holders, there’ll be receiving maps and information in their season ticket mailout on how best to survive all the changes in parking, tailgating, and limited entrances into the Coliseum.

The Scholarship Tower: Seeing the renovation up close, the structure is intimidating, overwhelming, and seems to dwarf the rest of the inside of the Coli, including the storied peristyle end. There’s no question in our mind that those that have the money and/or the access to get inside the tower once it’s completed will be blown away by its seven-stories and, of course, the opulence. However, for the rest of the population, there’s little question that there will be a great deal of controversary over what has been done to the beloved Grand Old Lady.

Media facilities: Now, what you probably will be happy to learn was that the media was informed that when the “Scholarship Tower” is completed, the print media will be seated on the sixth floor and will be assigned seats somewhere between the goal line and the 35-yard line of the closed end of the Coli. Many new stadiums are going with this particular media placement so that the choice seats can be sold to those that can afford the suites and prime seating locations.

The beam: Before the final Coliseum beam was placed on top of Scholarship Tower on Wednesday at noon, the Trojans Marching Band providing some musical drama. FYI, those in attendance were given the opportunity to autograph the final beam with marking pens. Naturally, many in the media couldn’t resist being a little part of history.

Parking warning: There will not be any paid parking at the Coliseum; it will only be for “permit” fans only. Yikes!

The new seats: While most fans won’t be sitting in the “new seats,” we had a chance to sit in the new seats below the portable press box area. I must say the seats look great, were reasonably comfortable, and those valued “cup holders” – while not in place for this weekend’s Rams/Raiders game – will be in place for the UNLV opener.

New handouts: We also got the opportunity to see the two new congregating areas for students and Trojan Athletic Fund members (separate areas but across from each other near the peristyle end), and we were surprisingly impressed at the social possibilities. They could be one of the well-received big additions, and the vantage points to watch a game weren’t all that bad.

A nice gesture: Near the conclusion of the beam ceremony, Trojans’ athletic director Lynn Swann told all the construction workers in attendance that they would get complimentary tickets – “on us” – to a USC home game. It was well received by the 1,500 workers with resounding applause.

The post-game show…

Scouting the Rebels: The starting quarterback for UNLV will be sophomore Armani Rogers, the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2017. Last season, Rogers passed for 1,471 yards and rushed for 780 yards and had a fine scrimmage himself this weekend.

Money game: For coming to L.A. to play the Trojans, UNLV will receive a check for 1.15 million.

Homecoming: According to UNLV athletic director UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois, “In football, we balance competitive positioning, recruiting, opportunities for our student-athletes and location for both students and fans. We have dozens of student-athletes from the Southern California area on our team, and the game at USC will give them an opportunity to play in front of their families and friends. Additionally, showcasing our program and university on national television (Pac-12 Network) is always valuable.”

The streak: When UNLV comes Coliseum calling on Saturday, Sept. 1, they will be facing a daunting task by facing a USC football program that has won its last 16 home games in a row. In fact, as head coach of the Trojans, Clay Helton has not lost a home game.

The streak – Part 2: The long Trojans’ home winning streak is the longest since a school-record 21 in a row from 2001 to 2004 (not including the six wins later vacated due to NCAA penalty.

The last word: Okay, so you couldn’t be part of Wednesday’s Coliseum media progress tour, so here’s this week’s Sunday Coliseum renovation real time photo update: https://app.oxblue.com/open/usc/lacoliseumrenovation  

The last word– Part 2: Click below for a good video overview of the Coliseum as of mid-August https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuZeZ_aeuro

Greg Katz
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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