The unranked USC Trojans have now officially played six games. With a 4-2 record, the Trojans are now on to their second half of the season. How have the Trojans fared so far? Here's our mid-season report card:
Star: JT Daniels
Stats: 118/202, 1540-yards, 7 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
- Taking over for first round NFL draft pick Sam Darnold is no easy task. To do so as an 18-year-old true freshman is even harder. JT Daniels has stepped into the role as USC’s quarterback with as much skill and poise as one could expect. In USC’s first game against UNLV, Daniels showed the potential he had as a quarterback and the connection he carries with Mater Dei teammate, Amon-Ra St. Brown. While he experienced less than stellar weeks against Stanford and Texas, the true freshman has been fantastic ever since. Against Washington State, he outlasted a shootout with veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew and against Arizona helped move the offense forward in the opportunities allotted to him. Two early interceptions against Colorado did not phase Daniels, who went on to throw for three touchdowns and 256-yards in the win. Suffice to say, Daniels has enormous potential and has shown it in bursts. His ability to sustain drives and make plays will be paramount to the Trojans securing a trip back to the Pac-12 title game.
Stars: Aca'Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai
Stats:Ware: 377-yards, Malepeai: 6 touchdowns
- USC’s rushing offense has been largely inconsistent across six games this season. There are games such as Week 3 against Texas where the team had negative rushing yards. And there are games such as Week 5 against Arizona, where tailbacks contributed 3 touchdowns and 261-yards on offense. Perhaps this is a product of all three of the Trojans’ tailbacks being named co-starters at the beginning of the season. It is hard to create a rhythm when multiple tailbacks are switching in-and-out. At the same time, however, that has been one of USC’s strengths due to the varying styles each tailback carries. Perhaps it is due to USC’s offensive line not creating enough opportunities. The fact of the matter remains, the Trojans currently rank in the bottom 130 in rushing offenses among FBS schools and will need to change that soon.
Stars: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns, Velus Jones Jr.
Stats: Yards: St. Brown, 427-yards, Receptions: St. Brown, 29, Touchdowns: Pittman, 3
- Early in the season, it appeared as if receivers not named Amon-Ra St. Brown could not catch a break. There was a definite lack of chemistry between Daniels and the wide array of receivers that USC’s offense boasts. Over the ensuing weeks, Daniels and co. worked on their chemistry and it is safe to say that all sides are on the same page. That chemistry showed in Week 4 against Washington State when Daniels threw for 241-yards and 3 touchdowns across several receivers. It became very apparent in Week 6 against Colorado. Following the win, USC’s passing offense ranks in the top 50 among all 130 FBS schools.
Stars: Cameron Smith, Talanoa Hufanga, Porter Gustin
Stats: Tackles: Smith, 47, Tackles for Loss: Gustin, 10-for-50-yards, Sacks: Gustin, 7, Interceptions: T-1, Ajene Harris & Marvell Tell III
- USC’s defense will hurt you and wear you down. They will also give up explosive plays and tally unnecessary penalties. It is this back-and-forth consistency that has the defense graded right in the middle. The Trojans have certainly been dealt an unlucky hand this season when it comes to defense. Bubba Bolden and Ykili Ross are not playing. Isaiah Pola-Mao separated his shoulder. And just recently, Porter Gustin had his season end with a right ankle fracture. A lot of credit goes to defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast for preparing the team each week in the wake of these absences and injuries. Still, it is not like they are without skillful players. Established players such as Cameron Smith, Marvell Tell and Ajene Harris are all still around. Meanwhile, the emergence of new stars such as Talanoa Hufanga and Jay Tufele have also helped the Trojans. The problem is that every so often the defense lets up and allows teams to come close. Case in point, against Arizona after shutting out the Wildcats in the first half, the defense allowed them to score 20-points. The game ended with a score of 24-20. Just recently against Colorado, the defense allowed 13 points in the fourth quarter. Still, the defense does do a lot of things right at times, such as get the ball back to the offense early and often. While the offense experiences growing pains under a true freshman quarterback, it is important that the defense plays a solid and consistent four quarters.
The Trojans are no where near where they were one year ago under Sam Darnold. And that's okay. They don't have to be. In an overall weak Pac-12 South, USC can afford to experience a bit of a retooling under JT Daniels. With a win against Colorado, USC now controls its own destiny for the remainder of the season.
After a tough matchup against Utah, the Trojans will round out their Pac-12 schedule against Arizona State, UCLA, Cal and Oregon State. Their final game will be against No. 4 ranked Notre Dame. A 4-2 record with a 5-1 conference record to close out the year should be enough to get the Trojans back to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title game.