With JT Daniels at the helm for the first time, the Trojan offense initially stuttered, failing to reach the end zone until nine minutes into the second quarter. Even with great field position starting at the UNLV 29, USC failed to gain more than a yard. Meanwhile, after a promising initial stop, USC’s defense gave up big plays that opened the door for a competitive game through the fourth quarter. Here’s the good and the bad that arose during the course of the game.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
The hype surrounding Amon-Ra St. Brown was palpable. Yet some took a more realistic approach and tempered their expectations for this season.
So far, St. Brown has blown every expectation out of the water. He lead all non-running backs with nine touches, seven receptions for 98 yards, a punt return for nine yards, and a 12 yard end-around-run. The true freshman showed the ability to contribute in every facet of the game: he caught short routes, showed off his great route-running in intermediate routes, and caught this long bomb after getting behind the defense.
JT Daniels throws his first career TD to his guy Amon-Ra St. Brown @jtdaniels06 @amonra_stbrown @USC_Athletics (via @Pac12Network) pic.twitter.com/UWUJKrNDbT— Overtime (@overtime) September 1, 2018
Some might say St.Brown even looked like Adoree Jackson, albeit slower, but with more finesse. Every time he touched the ball, the Coliseum boiled over in anticipation. Just a freshman, St. Brown is the most electric player on the Trojans’ roster.
I’m not as high on JT Daniels’ debut as most are. His completion percentage should have been far higher than just 63 percent; Daniels missed several short and intermediate throws. Whether an effect of poor route-running, miscommunication, or poor throws, these all reflect on the quarterback.
That said, Daniels proved why he was a top recruit, and only warrants optimism when looking forward. A starter as a true-freshman, miscommunications and missed short throws are bound to happen. I expect those issues to be completely gone by mid-season.
Daniels did show, however, great poise and intangibles. Despite failing to reach the endzone for almost an entire half, he was poised and consistent throughout, and never lost confidence in throwing the ball. Daniels also showed the physical traits that made him such a prized recruit: he was mobile in and out of the pocket, and had the arm strength to make every throw, especially the deep and intermediate throws that he seems to love.
Flawless kicking with a long of 47. Moving on.
The USC Secondary
Iman Marshall is big time. He utilizes his length and power to play physical, press coverage reminiscent of Sean Smith in his heyday. Despite giving up a long touchdown throw, Ajene Harris is maybe the best nickel corner in the PAC-12. Marvell Tell was all over the field, with four solo tackles. Isaiah Pola-Mao had a solid game in relief of Bubba Bolden, and the USC secondary didn’t seem to have taken a step back. True-freshman Olaijah Griffin even chipped in with this near-pick.
Overall, the USC secondary held Armani Rogers and the UNLV offense to just 97 yards through the air on 27 pass attempts.
This was Trevon Sidney’s coming out game. Fellow receiver Tyler Vaughns had a unspectacular game with four receptions for just 37 yards, and Michael Pittman Jr. was invisible for most of the game. Sidney stepped in the number two receiver behind St. Brown.
With all of the expectations surrounding Pittman and Vaughns coming into the season, TSidney became something like an afterthought. With three crucial catches for 72 yards, Sidney made his statement for more playing time throughout the season. As a small receiver, 5 foot 11 and weighing 170 pounds, Sidney showed great awareness and ability to high point balls over the arms of reaching defenders.
Michael Pittman Jr.
The two primary receivers on the roster were supposed to be Michael Pittman Jr. and Tyler Vaughns. Vaughns dodges this list because of his contributions on special teams: he had two punt returns for 54 yards. Look for Vaughns to be the full-time punt returner from now on.
Pittman, however, looked invisible for most of the game. He caught one long ball for 36 yards when the Trojans had a comfortable 33-21 lead with less than seven minutes left in the game. That’s all he did.
If Pittman continues to look invisible during the crucial stretches of the game, he will surrender playing time to Trevon Sidney.
This one is more opponent specific than the rest. Against a dual-threat quarterback in Armani Rogers and the prolific UNLV running game lead by Lexington Thomas, players lost control of their assigned lanes, resulting in big rushing plays. The number of missed tackles didn’t help either.
Under Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 system, each player in the front seven has one lane to control. UNLV however, boasted a dual threat quarterback in Rogers with a knack of distorting these lanes and creating something out of nothing in the chaos that ensued. Though Cameron Smith ended up with two big passes defensed on intermediate passes, the USC defense didn’t play with enough discipline.
There were too many scramble jump-passes and big plays for first downs. Though UNLV was held to just 5-15 on third down attempts, USC certainly had the opportunities to make more timely stops.