by Garry Paskwietz
In this week’s edition of the mailbag we discuss the impact of Sam Darnold on the USC season, defensive line and offensive line recruiting, and the possibility of Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster leaving for the NFL:
Was this season due to the coaches making the necessary adjustments to put the team in position to win, or was it more of a function of Sam Darnold’s talent and leadership permeating the entire team along with opponents who ended up being worse than expected?
I think both factors were part of the resurgence but if I’m going to rank them in order I would put Darnold at the top. I just think Sam impacted everything in a way that you simply don’t see too often and as good as some of the coaching moves were, I can’t sit here and know what it would mean if Sam wasn’t in the line-up at QB. You have to give Helton credit for making the move to Sam (even if there are questions asking if it should have been done sooner), for establishing the business-like work ethic that became the identity of the team and for molding them into a well-prepared and focused group. But with that being said, I don’t think it’s the same without 14.
What are chances SC can land a couple of top DL recruits? How many DL’s returning next year?
Very good. Right now there are 3 commits along the d-line in Hunter Echols, Jacob Lichtenstein and James Lynch. Among the names who could be added to the commit list are Brandon Pili, Terrance Lang, Jay Tufele, Marvin Wilson and D.J. Johnson, a Miami commit who visited last weekend. There are 8 interior linemen coming back for USC next year (Bigelow, Fatu, Green, Daniel, Dorton, Rector, Scott, Jimmons) and 5 edge players (Nwosu, Tucker, Gustin, Murphy, Betiku).
Any news regarding Bolden? Thanks for any morsel.
He is scheduled to visit USC sometime in January (there is one report that says it will be the 14th). The only other visit he has made so far, or has scheduled, was to Ohio State in early November.
How many offensive linemen does USC take in this class? 5 or 6?
I think it will be 5 but I’m not ruling out 6 at all. Right now you have Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brett Neilon and Andrew Vorhees, a very solid group. I think the Trojans will add Austin Jackson, and there’s a legitimate chance that we could see a flip with Wyatt Davis. There are also other big names in play such as Foster Sarell and Aaron Banks.
Notwithstanding any recruits we may get, who presently on the roster do you see as being able to serviceably fill Stevie T’s spot? And are you hearing anything about Miss. JC DL Javon Kinlaw?
The 3 names who are most likely to fill the spot would be Josh Fatu, Jacob Daniel or Kenny Bigelow. Fatu got a start this year and would figure to get the first look in spring. Daniel is probably the longest shot of this group but he’s advanced well under Kenechi Udeze so I want to see where he is in spring. Bigelow is the wild card because we don’t know what his status will be coming off another knee injury. He could definitely have a “Stevie T” kind of bonus impact if he can come back healthy.
Can you describe Bigelow’s eligibility after this season?
Kenny will be a redshirt senior in 2017. There is no word yet on if he would apply for a sixth year of eligibility (2018) but since he has missed two full seasons due to knee injuries it would appear he has a good case.
What kind of year do you think Cameron and Porter had?
I thought both played very well, especially toward the end of the year as the entire defense was more in synch. They finished 1-2 on the team in tackles (Smith led the way with 79, Porter tied with Hutchings at 64) and Gustin led the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (12). They both were dependable and started all 12 games. I thought Cameron looked the most comfortable in the last two games as he recovered from his knee injury, and he was still pretty good the rest of the year. He’s never going to be the fastest guy out there but he has such instincts for the game.
Given that we lose both starting offensive tackles this year, who do you project to start there next season? Chuma obviously has the inside track for one spot. I’m curious if you think the coaches will move Toa or another O-lineman out to tackle to try to get the best five lineman on the field. Losing EJ Price really hurts here.
I do think Chuma gets one of the spots, and my guess at this point is right tackle. And my first instinct is to move Toa Lobendahn to left tackle because I think he offered a solid option there before and could do it again. I don’t know if that is Toa’s best spot but, as you say, it’s about finding the best 5 and I think Nico Falah has shown to be a dependable option at center so it gives the flexibility to move Toa outside. I can see the coaches also looking at other options at left tackle including Chris Brown, Clayton Johnston or Roy Hemsley.
Which of the freshman wide receivers other than Michael Pittman are most likely to contribute strongly next year and why do you think that?
I think the two outside guys (Tyler Vaughns and Josh Imatorbhebhe) and that’s primarily because there will be more opportunity there, especially if JuJu leaves. Both guys have really shown some good things at times as redshirts and there’s no reason to think they aren’t ready to go. I do like what we saw from Velus Jones and Trevon Sidney as well, very similar players in stature and ability from the slot.
The Lizard King
How serious do you think AJAX and Juju are in returning for their senior years?
I get the sense that Adoree’ is very serious about it, and he’s the kind of person who I can definitely see making the decision to stay. I don’t know that he will stay but I believe him when he talks about not having achieved the goals he set out for at USC that include a national title, a Heisman, a Thorpe, etc. A lot of players talk like that but all of those things would be in reach for Adoree’ if he did decide to come back. And he’s got the kind of confidence in himself to make that choice. With JuJu I think he is ok with leaving but then after the Notre Dame game he said “if Adoree’ stays, I will stay” so you never know.