1. Get the Ball to the Tight End
Last season, Tyler Petite recorded 23 receptions for 307 yards—for an average of 13.3 yards per reception. These numbers are not ideal, but they Petite’s strengths and weaknesses as a tight end: he is a great blocker with some value as a big target in the red-zone.
This season, Petite has regressed. At almost halfway through the season, Petite has only recorded four catches for an abysmal 27 yards. His longest reception has been just 10 yards. Part of this regression has been due to JT Daniels’ proclivities.
Daniels loves throwing the deep ball, but struggles to succeed in the tighter spaces of the intermediate and short passing game. For the most part, Daniels has not needed to throw short and intermediate passes. The three-headed monster of Stephen Carr, Vavae Malepeai, and Aca’Cedric Ware has given the Trojans good conditions to launch the deep ball.
Utah’s defensive line, however, will make running the ball very difficult. Against Stanford’s talented offensive line, Utah’s defense held Cardinal rushers to 72 yards on 24 carries, a measly three yards per carry. Arizona’s dynamic backfield was held to 87 yards on 26 carries, for just 3.34 yards per carry. From Texas’ complete domination of the USC offensive line, we know that USC simply cannot run against dominant defensive lines.
To beat a Utah team that just blew out Stanford and Arizona, USC must make its short gains through more short passing. JT Daniels and Tyler Petite must get on the same page for the Trojans to beat these Utes.
2. Protect JT Daniels
Just nearing halfway into the season, JT Daniels has fumbled six times, losing two of them. He’s already been sacked 14 times. The USC offensive line is simply not doing its job. Part of the problem is Daniels’ preference to hold the ball for the deep threat; Daniels’ and offensive coordinator Tee Martin have opted to not get the ball out quickly, rather looking for the deep threat. This necessarily means that Daniels will be sacked more than average.
In Utah’s last two games, they’ve logged four sacks against one of the best offensive lines in college football in Palo Alto, and sacked Arizona QB’s five times in total. Given Daniels’ love for the deep ball, and inconsistent ball security, the USC offensive line must play better for the Trojans to win the day.
3. Continue to Spread the Ball Around
Last week’s game against Colorado showcased the dominance of the Daniels’-Michael Pittman Jr. connection. On paper, Daniels and Pittman are a match made in heaven. Daniels’ favorite pass is the long bomb, giving his receiver a chance to go up and catch it. Pittman’s calling-card as a wide receiver is his ability to make contested catches in traffic over defenders.
Name a WR duo better than Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman right now pic.twitter.com/rUjzUsNSQg— Barstool SC (@BarstoolSC) October 15, 2018
Pittman’s coming out party in the Coliseum was necessary. With six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns, he had more than a third of his season total’s in each of those three categories.
His production against Colorado came partially from necessity. USC’s number one receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown, was taken out of certain plays and whole drives for an unknown reason, which may be a lingering shoulder sprain.
Through every other game so far this season, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns have looked like the most talented Trojans on the field.
If Pittman can keep up his current production, he will be able to take some pressure off of St. Brown and Vaughns, leading to a more diverse and prolific passing attack.
Outside of Pittman, more pass-catching from runningbacks and tight-ends will result in a more creative offense where defenses cannot key in on just one threat.