The Trojans held a shorts and shoulder pads practice on Wednesday with a lot of defensive emphasis in two key areas; defending against the tempo that the Arizona offense plays with and containing a quarterback that Clay Helton calls “the most dangerous we will face this year.”
“One of the things that Kevin Sumlin has brought is the speed of their tempo, it’s as fast as we’ve seen,” said Helton. “And Khalil Tate is keeping his eyes downfield better this year so it’s really important for us to maintain gap integrity because his deep ball is so good these days.”
One of the players who will be key in that regard is Porter Gustin, who did not play against the Wildcats last season due to injury, and he says the Trojans are aware of the ankle injury that has slowed Tate as a runner so far but they are preparing as if he could be healthy.
“We need to be mindful that when healthy he can run anytime he wants,” Gustin said. “We’re not going to assume anything on his mobility because he’s still a threat back there.”
Even with Tate being limited as a runner this year the Wildcats are leading the conference in rushing, while Khalil is averaging 260 yards per game throwing the ball.
“The addition of the RPO element has been huge for them,” Helton said. “I talked to the team about maintaining mental toughness, you don’t want to be the guy to let your team down by keeping the focus over and over and over, because if they get to the 2nd level they are gone. When you add J.J. Taylor to Khalil’s ability to throw the deep ball it can be pretty dangerous.”
One of the early drills today was a red zone series of 1-on-1 match-ups between wide receivers and DB’s. The best catch came from Josh Imatorbhebhe against coverage from Greg Johnson.
Among the special teams work was some onside kick practice, and punt returns with Tyler Vaughns and Ajene Harris alternating on returns.
Olaijah Griffin and Marvell Tell both had interceptions during service team work, while J.T. Daniels and Devon Williams hooked up on a deep touchdown pass as well.
The team came together for a final 11-on-11 period to end the day. Jake Russell had an acrobatic catch down the right sideline. Stephen Carr had a nice gain on a swing pass to the right side, and the day ended with Griffin picking off Jack Sears and receiving a convoy line into the end zone led by Brandon Pili.
Clay Helton had a long 1-on-1 talk with Isaac Taylor-Stuart on the field after practice.
Injuries: Jalen McKenzie was out due to a back issue. Josh Imatorbhebhe returned this week after missing time since the first scrimmage of fall camp with an ankle, he won’t play this week but should return for Colorado.
In attendance: John Mazur, Thomas Williams
Palaie Gaoteote on getting his first extended game action last week
“It was fun being out there with guys like 35, 56 and 45. Kind of surreal to be under the bright lights but I was kind of prepared for it with my high school program. It wasn’t anything different with my preparation knowing I was going to play because I always prepare like I’m going to be a starter.”
Khalil Tate is a QB who can move around and cause problems, how do you get ready for him
“We know that he’s a raw talent who can go north, south, east or west. We need to rally to the ball and we’ll be all right.”
Clay Helton on the fact that the Trojans have 29 pass break-ups but no interceptions
“We play a lot of man coverage and there aren’t normally a lot of picks in man, they come more in zone coverage. But it says we’re getting our hands on a lot of balls and hopefully one of these days it translates into some picks.”
Clay Helton on the new redshirt rule coming into play now that the Trojans have played four games
“We met as a staff on this and did a spreadsheet of how many games each player has taken part in, if they are still eligible to redshirt or how many games we have to play with for each guy. There are some decisions that have to be made this week and we’re ready for that.” —- as a side note, Helton was asked if he could provide names of who would redshirt and his response “I’ve got 105 guys to keep track of” indicated he wasn’t going to do that right now.