“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about USC football.
Everything was looking up for the Trojans. So long Tee Martin; it’s Graham Harrell’s turn to lead the offense. Air-raid is here, and boy, did it look good on the Trojans. The first half of USC’s game against Fresno State was promising.
Quarterback JT Daniels, now in his second season, looked comfortable. A much improved pocket presence reassured fans that he knew what he was doing this time around. The ball was zipping out of his hand to the receivers with ease. The offense was methodical, a welcome change to what fans saw last season.
But with USC, it seems like all good things must come to an end, and the good came to a crashing end when Daniels dropped to the turf with a knee injury late in the first half. A torn meniscus and ACL injury will sideline Daniels for nine to 12 months.
So where is USC now? USC is now left with another true freshman quarterback leading the offense in Kedon Slovis.
Is this a bad thing? Maybe. Is this the worst thing? Definitely not.
In my book, experience beats talent, but Slovis sure has a lot of talent. He wouldn’t have beaten out two upperclassmen for the second string if he didn’t. His debut reminded me of the performance Daniels showed us every week last year; mostly solid play with a couple flashes of greatness and a few bad errors.
There is no reason that Slovis can’t lead this offense. He has the potential to be a great quarterback, like Daniels did, but he needs to mitigate those mistakes. First game nerves definitely factored into his shaky first-drive performance. On Slovis’ later drives, he looked much more confident than the first.
Slovis cited a “bad read” on the interception he threw, and I doubt we will see picks like that after he gets familiarized with the offense.
Before the start of the season, I was worried about two areas: the run game and the defense.
Right now, I’m not worried about the running backs. The junior duo of Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai showed a lot of promise.
The two backs combined for 175 yards averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Last year, Fresno State had the third best total defense, allowing an average of 3.7 yards per carry. However, Fresno State isn’t a tough matchup, and I’m interested to see how they will stack up against some of their more experienced competition.
Stephen Carr needs to stay healthy. He has been prone to injury over his collegiate career and losing another integral part of the offense could prove detrimental.
I have a feeling that the air-raid offense will be dialed back a little. Slovis is just a bit inexperienced at this level and putting the ball in the air all the time might not be the best idea right out of the gate. The Trojans are in good hands with Carr and Malepeai on the ground. I still expect to see a pass heavy offense, especially with USC’s dominant receiving core. Slovis has the ability to anchor the air-raid offense, it just probably won’t be full-blown air-raid right away.
The defense also reassured me to an extent. They blew a few coverages, resulting in gains a bit too long for comfort. I think those issues will iron out as the season progresses, but so far the young defense doesn’t look as questionable as many thought it would.
Additionally, the safeties are looking extremely solid. Sophomores Isaiah Pola-Mao and Talanoa Hufanga are showing great chemistry. Pola-Mao denied the Bulldogs’ last chance to tie the game with a late game end zone interception.
Above all, the “mental-lapse” penalties have to stop. You can’t lose what would have been a 70-yard return because you have two guys with the same number on the field. Helton assured the media that it was an “equipment malfunction” and that “it won’t happen again.”
The problem is not equipment malfunctions, it’s sloppiness. It is really difficult to move an offense down field if a piece of yellow cloth keeps moving you back 10, 15 yards.
Stanford is going to be a test. USC may catch a break if senior quarterback K.J. Costello doesn’t pass concussion protocol. A battle of the second-strings will definitely make the competition a bit more even, but this next game could set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every Monday.