Wolf: USC helps offense by giving defensive starters day off
LOS ANGELES – USC’s first-team defense did not even see the field during Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum.
“We had seen enough of those guys,” Trojans coach Clay Helton said.
Helton meant he wanted to see more of the second-and-third string defense, but it sounded like he didn’t want his offense to suffer another long day after two previous rough outings.
Instead, the starting offense took one series against the reserves, scored a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Sam Darnold to wide receiver Steven Mitchell and called it a day. That is what coaches call a confidence boost.
Training camp officially ended with USC still as talented as it was three weeks ago. The question is whether the Trojans are good enough to be one of the top four teams in the nation. That is really all that matters this season.
Did we learn anything about the Trojans’ potential in the third scrimmage? Not really if you believe the best measure of a team occurs when the No. 1 offense plays the No. 1 defense.
Tailback Ronald Jones shined . . . against the reserves. But Jones did have two long runs. It was also a big day for freshman tailback Stephen Carr . . . against the reserves. Carr eluded six defenders on one run, caught a a pass and also returned kickoffs.
Helton, always the master of understatement, said “I see him playing this year.”
But that was obvious from Day 1. As I said a couple weeks ago, the better question is whether Carr starts a game this season?
The Trojans need playmakers for Darnold and Carr is just as good catching a pass out of the backfield. Another promising option for Darnold is 6-foot-7 tight end Cary Angeline, who caught a touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Fink.
A 6-7 tight end is even more valuable when it is fourth-and-4 from the 27-yard line and you cannot kick a field goal. Michael Brown, who is supposed to be the kicker, went 2 for 5 on field goals Saturday. Two of those misses were from 26-and-31 yards.
Walk-on Chase McGrath went 4 for 5 with a long of 43 yards, so the kicking competition is as muddled as ever. Helton said he might keep it open all season.
What’s that saying about if you have two starting quarterbacks, you don’t have one. Right now, USC has two starting kickers. Even the coaches don’t know who they can trust because neither one ever kicked in a college game.
It probably won’t matter against Western Michigan. But it does not take much to envision the Stanford or Texas game turning on a field goal.
Helton said Saturday he is “worrying about the first game and starting fast.”
That is in reference to last season when USC got pummeled by Alabama and more importantly also lost to Stanford and Utah. Those last two setbacks kept USC out of a potential appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Even one loss in the first month this year would be considered a disaster. USC scrimmaged Saturday with its super fan, Fox radio host Colin Cowherd, watching again. Cowherd has turned sucking up to USC and Helton into a cottage industry.
And Cowherd doesn’t like losers. So if USC has a slow start, he might turn on his buddy, Helton. That is what fans do.
But if USC’s starting defense does to teams what it did to its own offense during training camp, Cowherd will be pumping up the Trojans all season. The thought of that might be worse than USC losing a game.
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