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O/NSO: The Tide and Callaway edition

The Obvious: It appears that it’s just a matter of time before the announcement is made that the Trojans will open the 2020 season against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Jerry’s World (AT&T Stadium) in Arlington, Texas.

The Not So Obvious: Here we go again and be careful what you wish for. As the Trojans continue spring ball with another open-to-the-public “situation scrimmage” on Saturday morning, you may have already heard the big rumor brewing that, according to CBS radio in Birmingham, Alabama, USC will return to the Big D area to face vaunted Alabama. CBS first reported that conversations are taking place to make it happen, and it would give the Trojans a chance to avenge or regain some respect after Nick Saban’s program toyed with Clay Helton’s team, 52-6, to open the 2016 season. Embarrassment really isn’t a strong enough adjective to describe the carnage.

The Obvious: Could the Trojans afford another embarrassment to Alabama?

The Not So Obvious: Well, consider this, my friends. It’s probable that the starting quarterback in 2020 would be a very experienced Trojan named JT Daniels, which would be very intriguing. The larger question might be who coaching either team. That’s not to suggest that Clay Helton or Nick Saban won’t be around, but it’s still a long time until 2020. One thing for sure, the Trojans shouldn’t be hurting for talent and neither will Alabama.

The Obvious: The last time the Trojans and Alabama hooked up in Dallas, most USC fans that went to the game would probably say – other than the game itself – they had a really good time.

The Not So Obvious: One of the key reasons that Alabama wants to play the Trojans is to upgrade their normally weak non-conference schedule. The Crimson Tide are also hoping for game against Notre Dame and a home-and-home with the Texas Longhorns. FYI, if you look ahead to 2020, the Trojans will also be playing the Irish in the Coliseum. The O/NSO would say that playing both the Irish and the Crimson Tide in the same year qualifies as a pre-candidate for toughest schedule of the year.  

The Obvious: If the Trojans are going to compete with Nick Saban’s juggernaut, they’d better have a power running game, and who knows who will be the offensive line coach, although some believe that current running backs coach Tim Drevno, who was the Trojans offensive line coach in 2014 before going to Michigan, will be the heir apparent to Neil Callaway if and when Callaway decides to hang up the whistle.

The Not So Obvious: The refreshingly blunt and sometimes illusive Callaway isn’t too concerned about the future, but does feel there were lessons to be, good and bad, learned from the Ohio State loss and a spring update. Asked about what he thought his players can take from the decisive Ohio State Cotton Bowl defeat, the coach said, “We learned a lot and we can do better. I told our guys that it was embarrassing, and we embarrassed ourselves, and probably embarrassed ourselves three times since we’ve been here – once against Alabama, once against Notre Dame, and once against Ohio State – and it ain’t nobody’s fault but our own and our football team. It’s not just the offensive line, but the offensive line is on us. We looked at it (Ohio State film) and moved on. There was some good things, a lot of good things, but it wasn’t like it was a total ass kicking and the score was bad. We did some good things. Obviously, I am not just talking about the offensive line but the offense (in general). I am not just harping just on the offensive line but the offense. If we throw the ball, we have to handle the blitz. If we run the ball, we have to block them up front and hit the seam. It’s the whole thing.”  

The Obvious: For Neil Callaway, who was a star linemen himself at Alabama, this spring is developing depth for an offensive line that looks mostly set, but there could be some movement before spring ball concludes.

The Not So Obvious: One of the candidates to see some of that potential movement is redshirt junior Clayton Johnston (6-5, 295), the pride of Anaheim Calif.) Servite High. Regarding the up and coming offensive lineman, Callaway said, “Clayton has had a good spring and we’re rotating him at left tackle (with Austin Jackson). He still needs to be more consistent at times, but overall he’s had a good spring. He has good effort for the most part and fundamentally technique wise, he’s gotten better at things.”

The Obvious: One of the offensive linemen the Trojans are counting on in 2018 is returning senior right tackle Chuma Edoga (6-4, 295).

The Not So Obvious: Asked about the improvement made by Edoga, Callaway was blunt and read between the lines. The grizzled coach said twice, “Chuma has to improve. Chuma has to improve.”    

The Obvious: Neil Callaway is well aware that his Trojans’ offensive line has to become more physical.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about that awareness of being more physical, Callaway agrees with his returning linemen that being physical is just as much mental as well as the physical aspect of the game. The coach said, “I think that’s right. It all starts mentally, but it’s not the only thing. You have to know the whole thing mentally and what to do, and you have to have great effort. We’ve got some guys that have the ability, so I think the mental part is the most important thing.”

The Obvious: The Trojans have some talented freshmen waiting to get their turn along the offensive line.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about his young studs in the interior, Callaway said, “Normally that first year is kind of hard and the next year is a little smoother. Again, it all goes back to preparation. It’s all about preparation. I like the two young centers (Brett Neilon and Justin Dedich), I think they’ve done well. They have good quickness and good punch, and both of them have a chance to be really outstanding players in time.”

The Obvious: One of the young returning offensive linemen the Trojans are hoping will continue to improve is sophomore Austin Jackson (6-6, 290).

The Not So Obvious: Asked about his progress thus far in the spring, Jackson said, “I’ve done a lot of good things, but a lot of things that I need to fix. I mostly focus on the things that I need to fix because I look at it (on film) and I need to fix it.” Asked about the defensive player that is the most challenging for him, Austin said, “Porter Gustin – Manimal. Going against him is always tough, but he makes me better. I try to challenge myself.”

The Obvious: One of the lingering questions is how will Neil Callaway decide who will start at left tackle – Austin Jackson or Clayton Johnston?   

The Not So Obvious: Looking at the progress of Austin Jackson and his main competition Clayton Johnston, Callaway said that the deciding factor between the two giants would be “decided by them.”

The Obvious: And finally, Austin Jackson is the grandson of former Trojans’ offensive line standout Melvin Jackson.

The Not So Obvious: Asked about what words of wisdom that Grandpa Melvin has given him, Austin Jackson said, “We talk a lot and he doesn’t live too far from here. He has a lot of knowledge not just about football but on life. He gives me pointers and a lot of things I can learn from. It always good to have him and my father, who also played football.”

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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