by Garry Paskwietz
In this edition of the mailbag we talk about comparisons to the 2002 USC team, the possibility of overlooking UCLA, where Sam Darnold ranks among conference quarterbacks, and more:
In honor of Jack Sears……….In your humble opinion, which one or two California-based recruits that USC is going after hard and is already committed elsewhere, will flip to USC.
Greg Johnson, the corner from Hawkins who is committed to Arizona, is someone the coaches are still pursuing and he would be a nice flip. If I had my choice I would also want to flip corner Keith Taylor from Servite who is headed to Washington but I don’t hear any real pursuit from the Trojans right now. Of course, Najee Harris is a terrific athlete and if he wants to come you find room for him. I don’t think Jaelan Phillips will flip but I would be happy to grab him too.
Helen of Troy
Will we win?
Garry is Sam Darnold the best QB in the Pac 12 this season?
I’m certainly picking him. I realize there might be some who look at Jake Browning’s body of work and put him ahead of Sam but I wouldn’t. I’ve seen the impact Sam has had on this football team, I’ve seen the production, the attacking style that he plays with, the gunslinger mentality that may result in a turnover every now and then but there has been far more benefit, that’s for sure. I can’t remember a freshman quarterback who has come of the gate like this with such sustained good play to begin his career, and to have it result in a 6-1 record along the way (think how close that was to being 7-0). And if you need a tie-breaker between Darnold and Browning, the head-to-head match-up is always a good way to go.
In your opinion, what will we have to do to win, and do you think we could go in there and underestimate UCLA?
If the Trojans can play like they have been playing lately we will be fine. I’m sure we will see a lot of Sam Darnold spreading the ball around, a good balance running the ball with RoJo and Justin Davis, and the Trojan offensive line looking to continue their solid play. On defense, my guess is the Trojans will be all over UCLA QB Mike Fafaul, as Clancy Pendergast has been dialing up the pressures and there is no need to stop against a Bruin offense that hasn’t shown the ability to run the football. As far as underestimating, I think this team has come too far for that to happen and there is still too much appreciation for the way things have turned to overlook anything. But then again, I do remember 13-9, 10 years ago. All that stood between USC and the national title game was a match-up with a not-so memorable UCLA team, and we got beat. Anything can happen in this series.
Is there any scenario in which EJ Price returns? If so, what kind of wait time or eligibility would he have?
I haven’t heard any scenario like that. As far as I know he would be eligible to re-enroll right away as long as he hasn’t enrolled elsewhere since leaving USC.
Justin Davis had a limited role (understandably) verses UW. Clearly he is working himself back and trying to gain confidence in the injured ankle. UW was on top of him before he could make a move (credit to them, but I have to guess his aggressiveness was limited too). What is your take for the UCLA game? 70%, 80%, 90%?
I agree that Justin wasn’t all the way back but it was good to get those carries out of him to spell RoJo, and he also had a big blitz pick-up. I thought Justin looked pretty good in practice this week, not sure what % I would put on it but I definitely expect him to play with no real limitations. Aca’Cedric Ware has also been able to go and he was running hard today. I would expect him to play as well, in the #3 RB role.
Do you have a tentative list of recruits set to visit for the Notre Dame game?
A trio of defensive linemen are confirmed for official visits right now with Greg Rogers, Alec Jackson and Brandon Pili. That list will likely grow over the next week, and the list of unofficial visitors will be long as well.
What has been recruits reaction to the win over Washington and the turnaround in general?
The biggest thing to me about the reaction of the recruits to this USC season is that we never saw any de-commits or any hand-wringing over the early-season struggles. There were a couple early de-commits in this class with Graham and Bolden but nothing since the season started. This group has been in contact a lot through a group chat and that has helped to keep them together and focused on what can happen when they get to USC. As for the Washington game, whether the timing of the move by Sears was coincidental or not it sure looked good for the Trojans to get that win and then secure a big-time QB flip the next day.
How would you assess the recent performance of the o-line? Where have they made the most progress and what areas need improvement?
I think the OL has gotten better as the year has gone along and it culminated in probably their best game yet last Saturday. They are playing now like the experienced and talented group that a lot of people projected coming into the season as one of the best lines in the nation. The guys on the line talk about familiarity, about how they know each other so well in areas of communication and how that really pays off. I think part of it was also adjusting to the coaching style of Callaway, and also the overall impact that Darnold has had on everyone. These guys clearly love blocking for Sam, not only to protect him in the passing game but to see what happens sometimes when he takes off and runs with the ball. If there is one area that would be great to improve it would be the penalties that still rise up from time to time.
Garry — do you see similarities in the state of the program with the 2002/03 Orange bowl team? Before the season began, we were recovering from the Hackett wilderness and the team started to find its footing and really took off for 7 years after tough losses to KSU and WSU. Replace great QB (Palmer), quality RB (Fargas/McCollough), All-American WR (Williams/Colbert), TE (Byrd), and Polamalu. Now we are recovering from the sanction wilderness with Darnold, Davis/Jones, Juju/Rogers, Imarthobebe, and Adoree. Also CPC wasn’t established yet like HCCH. Could we be seeing history repeat itself?
I do see the similarities and I think it’s a legitimate comparison. This team is picking up momentum much in the same way the 2002 team did, and by the end of the year nobody wanted to play them (especially Iowa). And the important caveat you note is that Pete Carroll wasn’t Saint Pete yet, he was still a coach trying to build something after being fired twice in the previous five years.
Hi Garry — we’ve been seeing a trend each week of having a new defensive player step up and impact the game. P. Gustin vs Oregon, AJax at Washington, etc. Who makes the biggest splash this week?
If we’re making guesses I’ll go with Rasheem Green. He had the fumble recovery for a TD last year against the Bruins (photo above), and he is coming off a great game last week with a blocked kick, two pass break-ups and a sack.