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WeAreSC Mailbag

This week, reader questions ranged all over the place, as we talk recruiting, Kedon Slovis’ throwing, scheduling Notre Dame, Munir McClain, offensive line coach Tim Drevno and other topics.

Trojan Forever

Q: What are the dates of the commitment process this year? I assume there is still an early and late commitment period. Have the dates changed due to the changes in the fall football schedules?
In addition, it seems that USC commitments that were rolling in the summer have stopped. Is this due to a quiet period or have we lost momentum (e.g. the switch from SC to ND yesterday).

A: No change to the signing day schedule, and we’re less than a month away from the early signing period. Even with the extended dead period, the early period is expected to see most of the 2021 class sign. There will be some who wait until February, but that number likely dwindled with the recent announcement that the dead period will run all the way into April. Had the dead period been lifted in January, there was still time for official visits to take place before the February signing period. With that dead period still scheduled, there’s no point for a lot of guys in waiting any longer.

The early signing period runs from December 16 through December 18. And the regular signing period begins February 3.

I’d say that it’s a combination of losing a little bit of momentum plus just the time of year it is. USC ran up a string of commitments and filled up a bulk of its class, and now the Trojans are chasing guys who are waiting a bit to make commitments. But this hasn’t been the loud, impressive start to the season the coaches were hoping would grab the attention of those uncommitted guys. There’s still time to get things going and there is never a guarantee of a one-to-one relationship in terms of on-field success guaranteeing a good class or vice versa.

Burak Uslu

Q: One of the posters mentioned in one of the threads and I wanted to get your opinion.

Sam Darnold struggled with his accuracy and throw after working on his mechanics in offseason between his first year starting and his last season.

Both games, Slovis struggled with his throwing motion early in the game when he had time to think about and correct it. But when the game is on the line and defaulted to his instincts, his balls came out beautifully? This leads me to ask, Is there any chance that Clay Helton, who is a QB coach by trait, might have tried to correct some of Slovis’ beautiful throwing motion?

A: I don’t believe the coaches have tinkered with Slovis’ motion. I’m more curious about how the ball looks coming out of his hand against Utah than anything else in that game. If the throws look similar to a bulk of the ones he had against Arizona, it’s time to start worrying, because it’s a serious issue. Not every quarterback has thrown a perfect spiral every time, and Peyton Manning is a guy who had a ton of success even though some of his passes came out looking pretty bad. But there were too many deep balls that hung up and passes that sailed way over receivers’ heads. Those are going to starting winding up intercepted if it continues.


Q: What is USC’s plan to address LB recruiting? It doesn’t seem wise to rely on injury prone players like Solo and Iosefa for next year and this unit is in need of a massive infusion of speed to be effective. It is frustrating to watch EA playing slower, than his footspeed (which is not fast), because of indecision. We seemed to have regressed at LB.

In the past SC would find safeties that could move to LB, like Dion Bailey, Sua Cravens. Is there time to do some of that this season (yes I know Raymond Scott has moved back to LB)? Very concerned about our D.

A: It’s a good question because right now you have two really good local linebackers committed elsewhere in Raesjon Davis (LSU) and Ethan Calvert (Utah).

I don’t see a safety moving to linebacker this season, but there are a couple guys in the 2021 class who could wind up at linebacker and have that speed you’re talking about, in Anthony Beavers and Julien Simon. There are a couple of big-time local linebackers in the 2022 class. USC has a commitment already from Niuafe Tuihalamaka (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) and the Trojans are doing well with David Bailey (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei).


A: While I understand and appreciate that we’re 2-0 on the season, we could just as easily be 0-2 heading into week 3 against Utah in SLC. I have no confidence in this team to beat Utah this weekend nor do I have any confidence in this team to beat Colorado if they should be our opponent this weekend. My question is, how much more evidence is needed for Carol Folt and the BOT to realize that Clay Helton is simply in over his head and needs to be replaced? While I would love to see USC make a move for Urban Meyer, I would also be very happy with either Luke Fickell or Matt Campbell. But it seems like all of those coaches could be on the move to bigger and better opportunities this off-season if jobs like Texas, Michigan and others open up. I feel like it may be now or never for USC to get our next coach before the guy we might really want is gobbled up by someone else. What are your thoughts?

A: I’m not in meetings with Carol Folt or the BOT, so I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on in those discussions, but it certainly doesn’t seem as though anybody at that level is actively looking to move on from Clay Helton. And if that’s the case, I’d imagine that one-point wins against Arizona State are going to be enough to continuing carrying him through as the head coach at USC.

I understand the idea about finding the right time to strike when looking for a coach, but I also think every year presents a few good options for schools looking to make a change.


Q: It seems that ever since the college football season got underway, all the questions and concerns about the potential long term health risks (myocarditis) due to COVID have all but disappeared. Any thoughts about why?

A: The myocarditis concerns have subsided because it hasn’t been the issue that researchers felt it could be when they first began studying it. It’s understandable that everyone would want to proceed with utmost caution, and the study that came out just seems like bad timing now. Conferences needed to make a quick decision and they wanted to get a better understanding of that issue. Players are still taking cardiac tests following positive tests.


Q: What have heard about the teams feeling of the McClain brothers leaving? I know a few players tweeted out their support when Munir had his press conference. Do you anticipate Helton getting any negative player reaction other than his inability to coach a hard nose discipline team?

A: It’s obviously been an interesting situation, and now Munir McClain has removed himself from the transfer portal and his mother, Shan McClain, tweeted Friday night: “#2 Munir McClain has strong beliefs in Faith, Family, & Football! Dreamed of being a Trojan! Wishes to Stand Strong & Fight On In Every Situation! Please Support His Endeavors! I Support you son! #FightOn”

I understand the playing time issue for Abdul-Malik McClain, since he’s been behind Drake Jackson and Hunter Echols so far this season. I don’t see this having much of an effect on how the players feel about Helton.


Q: Any opinion about the job offensive line coach Drevno is doing? He’s struck out on top OL recruits, but it looks like he might have uncovered some unheralded prospects. Drevno says he’s happy with the way the line has played so far, yet their individual player rankings by one evaluation service is bad, except for Vera-Tucker, who has had NFL-level performances. One SC writer said Drevno is at a disadvantage because his predecessor left him with no quality depth and there’s a bad recruiting environment due to Helton’s uncertain future. Any opinions?

A: I think Tim Drevno is a good coach, and you’re right in that he’s been dealt something of a difficult situation. I don’t think USC brought in enough linemen in the 2018 or 2019 classes and Drevno had to suddenly work in an offense with which he was unfamiliar. But he helped make Austin Jackson a first-round pick in this past draft and Alijah Vera-Tucker looks like he could be another one in the 2021 draft. That’s impressive.

But I think the recruiting needs to pick up a little bit, and I think the coaches would be okay privately admitting to that. They had a couple big targets this year in Kingsley Suamataia and Bram Walden and both are headed to Oregon at this point. I think Drevno needs to land Earnest Greene (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) and one of the standout Washington linemen (and probably a well-regarded Texas prospect) in the 2022 class. The issue of course is that he’s still operating in an offense and a program that doesn’t seem to push the offensive line as a priority position. It isn’t a huge data point, but there have been two Pac-12 Offensive Linemen of the Week this season and both of them have been from Oregon. That’s something that plays well with recruits when you’re replacing so many starters up front and still have that kind of success.


Q: How do you see this recruiting class shaping up? How many of our out of state commits do you predict to remain as part of this class regardless of our final record or head coach? Thanks.

A: At this point I see most or maybe even all of the out of state guys sticking. It’s such a weird year where you aren’t going to get guys taking late official visits that result in last-minute flips. I know the idea of staying closer to home might seem like it would be stronger under these circumstances, but I don’t think recruits see this as a long-term situation.

I think the class will be good, but I wouldn’t bet on Korey Foreman right now (although it does feel like Foreman’s lean fluctuates in different directions more than most top recruits in the past) and it’ll be tough to flip some of the targets committed elsewhere. The offensive linemen are good building blocks and the secondary will get a big infusion of talent, especially if USC can land Ceyair Wright (Los Angeles/Loyola). I think the defensive line needs at least one more big impact player. Aaron Armitage could have been that guy before he committed to Stanford. I think there are too many upperclassmen leaving this year or next to just bring in the two commitments. Josh Simmons (La Mesa, Calif./Helix) could be a guy there.


Q: If and when the USC/Notre Dame rivalry resumes will USC get the next home game? Traditionally games played in even years are out west, but with the cancellation this year USC would have to potentially skip a year. While on that subject, now that the PAC-12 is open to non-conference opponents is there any chance of rescheduling ND for a December match up?

A: I haven’t heard any specifics on that game next year, but the risk you run in trying to switch the odd/even year home games against Notre Dame is that right now the Notre Dame road trip lines up with years that USC has four Pac-12 road games and five at home. So if you flip the Notre Dame game, USC has their six road games already locked in for every even year. It’s workable, but USC wouldn’t ever want to take part in a neutral-site game or an interesting road trip during an even year because they wouldn’t want fewer than six home games. With the Notre Dame trip lining up on the years where USC has four conference road games, the Trojans could do a one-off game like the neutral-site game against Alabama that was scheduled for the season opener. Maybe the idea of possibly having eight home games in odd years makes that worth it, but if that’s the plan, you’re looking at a lot of home games against Fresno State and New Mexico.

I have a tough time seeing USC and Notre Dame getting together for a regular season game this season, since it would take several cancelations at this point and Notre Dame doesn’t really need a game against USC to make its case for the CFP. I think the best chance of it happening is if Notre Dame loses to Clemson in the ACC Championship game, USC beats Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game and a few strings are pulled to get a USC – Notre Dame matchup in a New Year’s Six bowl.


Q: With Mo Hasan out for an injury, what can you tell us about the remaining backup QBs behind Fink – Isaac Ward and Brad Aoki. Are they real options if something happened to both Slovis and Fink in a game, or is the season done in that case.

A: If both Kedon Slovis and Matt Fink were to go down, USC would likely get creative at quarterback. Last season when Fink was playing, the Trojans were prepared to go to Tyler Vaughns as an emergency quarterback. It would also likely go much more run-heavy and trying to get creative in getting the ball into different peoples’ hands. I think you’d see something like that rather than turning to a walk-on true freshman (Ward) or converted walk-on wide receiver (Aoki).


Q: Do we have a big ugly oline coming in? Already signed? a wish list recruit for NSD next Feb?

A: Right now USC has four offensive line commitments in the 2021 class. I really like four-star offensive tackle Mason Murphy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif./JSerra). He reminds me of Matt Kalil. I don’t mean Murphy right now is as good as Kalil was as a high school senior (Kalil was a no-brainer five-star and one of the top-20 players in the country) but being a poor-man’s Matt Kalil is not a knock at all. Maximus Gibbs (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) is a massive human being, but he actually moves pretty well for a high school senior listed at 6-foot-6 and 385 pounds. He’ll need to adjust his body a bit at the next level, but he has a chance to be a good one. USC also has a commitment from three-star lineman Ty Buchanan (Corpus Christi, Tex./Calallen). He recently picked up an offer from Mississippi State and head coach Mike Leach, so obviously there’s something in Buchanan that speaks to these Air Raid coaches. He’s another big, physical kid who plays all the way through the whistle. I think he’s a bit of a project along the lines of a couple of these 2020 linemen, but there’s definitely something to work with there. And another project is Saia Mapakaitolo (Mesa, Ariz./Red Mountain). He has a great offensive tackle frame, but he’s going to need to put on some weight. He might end up as a guy you hear more about as a redshirt sophomore or down the line a bit.

USC is likely going to chase Kingsley Suamataia all the way until he officially signs with Oregon. He’s that good and it’s worth staying on him.

Another target who just popped up on the board is Austin Uke (Dallas/Parish Episcopal School). He was an unranked prospect committed to Holy Cross a couple weeks ago. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound tackle is still committed to Holy Cross, but he’s picked up offers from Houston, Vanderbilt, USC, Florida State, Penn State and Georgia Tech since early November. He also earned a four-star rankings from 247 Sports in their latest rankings update.


Q: Jowon Briggs, a former 4* DL, former recruit of Coach Vic at UVA, has entered the transfer portal. Any chance he comes to SC?

A: I’m not sure what kind of shot USC would have with Briggs, although having Vic So’oto here is obviously a huge positive, as he recruited him and coached him last season at Virginia. Briggs had four sacks and 20 tackles and was a huge part of the Virginia defensive line, so he’d definitely be an impact addition wherever he winds up. Briggs is from Cincinnati, so the Bearcats are immediately a team to keep an eye on. After that, some of those Big Ten programs will be pushing hard as everyone out there looks to lure him closer to home.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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