Just Sayin' . . . Looking back at Lent

Saturday's scrimmages gives USC folks a reason to smile, although this week's Final Four does not.

Can we talk? Saturday’s scrimmage puts us in a different place. We actually know some things about this 2016 USC football team that we didn’t really know, even if we thought we did, as to how this is all going together and where it’s going.

We won’t stop there, of course. A lot is going on in college sports right now this Final Four week.

*** But first we'll talk some Trojans football. It’s becoming apparent that this USC secondary could be the best we’ve seen covering the team since 2001. After watching them Saturday, without Adoree’ Jackson, Chris Hawkins, John Plattenburg and incoming freshman Jack Jones, the guys that were here led by a maturing Iman Marshall and a rejuvenated Leon McQuay looked like an awfully strong group as they were . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Coaching matters, apparently. As do schemes. And techniques. And confidence. And expectations. Not to mention the toughness that comes with that . . . Just Sayin’.

*** In so many of the recent springs, you’d find yourself making the case that if . . . if only the coaches got it right, the Trojans had a chance despite the numbers, the sanctions, the schedule, all the negatives. But in only one of those seasons – 2011 – did they. Hope is not a plan, we always understood, and yet it was so much of what we had for USC, hoping they’d get it right. We’re not counting the second half of 2013, a season that was off the charts in every direction . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Watching Jabari Ruffin run around and find contact and get depth as well as quarterback pressures makes it clear LMIII isn’t the only veteran benefiting from the return of Clancy Pendergast & Co. . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Remember all that talk about whether to tackle or not in practice. Turns out if you have good aggressive athletes in good aggressive schemes moving fast at the proper angles that has them in the right places, tackles are the natural result. No big deal. They just happen with athletes of USC's caliber . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Still looking for someone to step up among the wide receivers after Juju Smith-Schuster, whose unavailability Saturday was an opportunity for someone to do so. Not sure that happened although the offense wasn’t set to do that exactly . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Looks like the switch of linebacker Reuben Peters to the F-Back spot is one of those moments of genius and necessity good coaching staffs come up with. Solves a lot of problems with this offense . . . Just Sayin’.

*** We especially like it that the F-Back spot also includes interchangeable tight ends Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who has the athleticism to make this work, and now veteran Taylor McNamara as well as Tyler Petite when he gets back from his concussion protocol. Allows you lots of flexibility with the personnel groups not being a dead giveaway as they have been in the past. Also allows you to get a couple of additional blockers at the point of attack without giving away where that is thanks to the ability to motion them and hide them and offset them outside and behind the tackle . . . Just Sayin’.

*** That’s how they did it in 2011 with TE Rhett Ellison and converted LB Ross Cumming and USC hasn’t ever been more efficient offensively since the NCAA sanctions were announced in 2010 . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Both lines have the size and athleticism – and the coaching and the schemes -- to be able to compete with anyone they play and how long has it been since we could say that. There should be 10 guys – all veterans -- vying for the five O-line spots by fall . . . Just Sayin’.

*** And with just two or three D-line spots to fill, the six players there, even though they’re considerably less experienced, could have enough -- as big and athletic as they are. Not sure anyone has a better trio of second-year guys than Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel and Noah Jefferson. Something we have to watch and hope for no more injuries. Great last-second recruit call on LBCC’s Josh Fatu . . . Just Sayin’.

*** What will help the front line guys, in addition to a penetrating, one-gap, aggressive scheme, will be the guys behind them. We really like the way they’re going with the savvy and smarts of seniors Quinton Powell and Michael Hutchings inside and moving them on most plays while Cameron Smith rehabs but having the likes of a now 260-pound second-year guy Porter Gustin on the edge with Uchenna Nwosu, who just keeps making plays, as well as Ruffin and soon Osa Masina changes the look of the front seven . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Like it that the offense isn’t going to gimmicks. Football is a tough man’s game. You have to do tough things. You have to hit people and defeat them at the line of scrimmage. This team and these coaches seem committed to do just that . . . Just Sayin’.

*** That includes the quarterbacks, all of whom, to one degree or another, look like they’re going to be expected to tuck the ball in and run it – and not just in the read option. There’s also the run-pass option with the QB pulling the ball out and flipping it like a long handoff to a receiver in space. Nice. That was missing. Just takes a little confidence and the will, even with a pocket passer like Max Browne, to do it . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Nice to have another South OC gunslinger on the way at QB with Slinging Sam Darnold fearlessly firing it where we haven’t been accustomed to seeing the ball go. Keep in mind that it’s easier to do that against a second defense limited by all the missing pieces from the two-deep right now in the secondary and linebackers but it’s fun to see what might be coming down the road . . . Just Sayin’.

*** If Clay Helton was pleased with one thing more than any other Saturday, in addition to not putting the ball on the ground, giving it away or committing multiple penalties, it was this: He has three running backs – Justin Davis, Ronald Jones and Aca’Cedric Ware -- who are hammers. They will hit it up in there, especially inside, even if none of them weighs much more than 200 pounds. Again, that’s football. It’s nice to see that someone understands that now . . . Just Sayin’.

*** But before we finish today, we can't let the NCAA off the hook with the matchup of two of the greatest academic fraudsters in modern college basketball history – North Carolina and Syracuse – in one semifinal Saturday that shows that cheating . . . well, it pretty much may be the way to go for some schools. Nice that they don’t play until Saturday. All those “student-athletes” won’t miss many classes and the tutors won’t have to work overtime . . . Just Sayin’.

*** If you ever had any illusions – or delusions – about the NCAA treating programs fairly – although if you have any USC connections why would you possibly think that? – they won’t last through this week . . . Just Sayin’.

*** Let’s face it. They’re no longer even trying at the NCAA now. And what do they care? What is anyone going to do about it? Nothing. So why bother? Would be nice to see someone, anyone, speak up about this kind of institutional corruption and ensuing hypocrisy that strikes at the heart of the NCAA’s mission far more than something wannabe agents did or didn’t do with Reggie Bush. But who would that be to call them out? . . . Just Sayin’.

*** And with 90 percent of the NCAA’s budget coming from the basketball tournament’s $800 million TV deal each year, do not hold your breath that any of this will be addressed . . . Just Sayin’.

*** So tune in and root – for both teams – Villanova and Oklahoma -- in the bottom bracket although do any of you wonder how easy a path the No. 2 seed Sooners have had – thanks, Oregon – to the Final Four despite the fact that the chairman of the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee is the Oklahoma AD. You know that’s just one of those lucky coincidences . . . Just Sayin’.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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