The Trojans held the first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday in the Coliseum and there was a clear statement made in the QB battle by freshman J.T. Daniels, who threw four touchdowns on the day, three of them to his former Mater Dei teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown.
For a competition that really hadn’t seen much separation through the first week of camp, today was a big opportunity for each QB to take a step forward, and Daniels certainly did that.
Matt Fink took the initial first team reps against the first defense but was unable to do much due to tremendous pressure from the defense. The first play was a Stephen Carr run with C.J. Pollard making the TFL, then Jay Tufele came in for a sack and walk-on linebacker Isaac Franco had a sack of his own.
Jack Sears came in and almost threw a pick-6 right away as Olaijah Griffin broke well on a pass to the right flat intended for Trevon Sidney and should have come away with the ball and nothing but green grass ahead of him. Sears went right back at Griffin with a jump ball pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe, who made the catch and started sprinting toward a 60-yard score, Talanoa Hufanga tried to catch him but could only trip him up, Josh was able to stay up and score but hurt his ankle on the Hufanga tackle attempt and his left ankle was in a boot by the end of the day. No word on his status as of the Helton post-practice presser.
Daniels came in for the third series and it didn’t take him long to throw in the direction of Amon-Ra on a downfield pass vs Isaiah Langley, the ball was juggled by Amon-Ra brought it in for a 50-yard completion. Ced Ware had a run and a nice pop from Marvell Tell to bring him down. Then J.T. went back in the air to Amon-Ra down the left sideline for a touchdown against Langley.
Sears hit Amon-Ra on a slant. A Carr run gained about five yards with Liam Jimmons forcing him into the path of Raymond Scott for the tackle. Kana’I Mauga had a sack.
Daniels hit Velus Jones down the middle, Isaiah Pola-Mao tried to make the play but missed and it went for a 35-yard score.
Markese Stepp caught a short pass and made some guys miss, nice gain. Fink threw a pass toward the goal line while under pressure and it fell incomplete. Vavae Malepeai had a real nice winding 20-yard run.
Malik Dorton had a sack on Sears. Sears threw for Devon Williams but Greg Johnson had the PBU. Vavae had another run where he put a stiff arm on Dominic Davis for extra yardage.
Daniels had his prettiest pass of the day on a double move by Amon-Ra that resulted in a 40-yard score.
Stepp had back-to-back nice runs. Daniels threw behind Devon Williams on a slant, and then missed Sidney on a short throw and had to settle for a field goal.
Sears put together a nice drive with completions to Falo over the middle, Williams for 15 yards, a short pass to Velus, and finally a throw to a wide open Falo over the middle for a score.
The final drive for Daniels had completions to Velus, Sidney and Velus and ended with another touchdown to Amon-Ra.
“For the first time in a live game atmosphere I thought JT looked very comfortable,” Clay Helton said. “He’s a very mature kid, physically and mentally, and he’s doing a nice job of competing.
“For purposes of evaluating we looked at this like a pre-season game and I liked the way all three quarterbacks did some good things. In our two-minute drill right before half we had a field goal and two touchdowns, that was good to see. I also liked the way it was a clean day without a lot of penalties.”
Helton also praised St. Brown, who was on the receiving end of three touchdowns today.
“Mercy,” Helton said. “What a nice day he had today. He had some confrontation on some of those catches, they weren’t lay-up catches, it was body-on-body having to make plays. I think that’s what separates you as a receiver is to make those tough plays and he really did that today.”
Of course, for all the buzz about Daniels and St. Brown coming away from the day, and deservedly so, it’s important to note that the defense did put good pressure on early, and most of those reps came from the starters (Jay Tufele received praise from Helton for his play) while going against Fink and Sears. And the play calling had different emphasis for each QB, including playing to a strength of JT’s game in terms of getting the ball downfield, and to his credit he delivered in the biggest setting we’ve seen so far in fall camp.