Sam Darnold says things aren't all that different now that he's the No. 1 guy in this USC offense the past two weeks except for the fact that he gets "to run all the plays in practice." Or most of them anyway.
That's not Clay Helton's answer. Asked to explain Colorado Coach Mike Macintyre's contention that USC has completely changed its offense to a spread, Helton said not so. It may look more that way and yes, "there have been some tweaks" after adding a 225-pound running back into the mix.
"[Offensive coordinator] Tee [Martin] ,has done a great job making people defend the quarterback," Clay said, which in turn has made some of the same plays and formations more effective when defenses must factor Sam in now. But it's not really a spread, Helton said.
"We always have a tight end on the field," Clay said, and seldom go four-wide. USC still lines up predominantly with one running back and one tight end -- "11 personnel" in Clay's coach-speak and "12 personnel," with one running back and two tight ends. Not your classic spread.
"It's a quarterback-driven offense," is what it is, Clay said, "forcing defenses to defend the quarterback." A quick quarterback, from his hands and feet to his decision making, who to this point has been able to defend himself.
A redshirt freshman who after two starts is No. 11 in the nation in completion percentage (.679 on 55 of 81 with five TD and one INT and a passing efficiency rating of 162.8, good for No. 19 in the nation.
But he won't be alone, as we were told on this day the USC offensive players were available to talk to the media. First there's a "very mature" Justin Davis, "Pup" as running backs coach Tommie Robinson started calling him because he was the new young guy in the running back room populated by the likes of Buck Allen and Tre Madden back in T-Rob's previous stint at USC in 2013.
"A complete back," Clay calls him now, noting his "two catches" for 38 big yards Saturday against Arizona State with 123 yards in 14 carries, his second straight big offensive effort. "We challenged him to make those explosive plays," Clay said, "we thought we could get to their safety and said he'd have to make someone miss," which Justin did on his 37-yard TD run.
And the good news is that with USC's offense now, even if it's 1-1 or 1-2 personnel, "we have two running backs," Clay said, counting Sam. And defenses now have to account for Sam. And as Justin has been saying for the past two weeks, that's good for Justin. "They have to pay attention to Sam," he said after the Utah game. "That opens it up for me."
Or for someone else like sophomore Ronald Jones II, who says he has no excuses with his injured ribs fully healed. "I'm a 100 percent now, yes sir," the USC freshman rushing record-holder said. He's also 100 percent with the program getting him to catch the football and pick up pass rushers. Because if he doesn't, everyone will know he's out there to do one thing and one thing only -- run the ball.
"He stresses that a lot," Ronald said of T-Rob. Although T-Rob says he thinks part of that is "that people look at what he did last year," and play him that way. "But he's got pretty good hands."
The problem, according to Ronald, is "I tend to take off with the ball before it gets there. Coach says you have to catch the ball with your eyes, not your hands . . . and I have been working on looking it all the way in" with both eyes and both hands, RoJo demonstrates.
"His time will come," T-Rob says.
One other player whose time may have come is the birthday boy, Deontay Burnett, who turned 19 Tuesday and got a JuJu Smith-Schuster ice bath to mark the occasion as he was being interviewed by USCFootball.com's Keely Eure, who also got the cold, wet shower.
Deontay's seven catches for 93 yards against ASU has him No. 3 on the team with 17 for 194 yards (10.8 average) with a TD and a long catch of 40 yards. He's behind only JuJu (26 for 320, 5 TD) and Darreus Rogers (19 for 239).
"I feel like Sam trusts me," Deontay said -- believes it so much he said it twice. And he trusts Sam, especially "on the scramble, when he breaks the pocket," which Sam is not hesitant to do. "We work on that, running to an open area when he does that."
As Clay said earlier, this offense is "quarterback driven."
Clay had the numbers down for 4-1 Colorado (2-0 in the Pac-12): 43 points a game, 300 yards of passing, 200 yards rushing . . . there are two quarterbacks who have thrown for 14 TDs, just two INTs, two wide receivers who can catch it deep and short . . . Eight returning seniors among the 10 returning starters on defense who have the 21st-ranked Buffs No. 13 in the nation on overall defense and No. 9 against the pass . . . Said they knew from watching this team on film last year that Coach Macintyre had been bringing in good players and developing them and would some day have a very good team. That year is this year, Clay said . . . Lots of injury updates here: OT Zach Banner pulled after a couple attempts to run with the first team in dummy offense. Doesn't look any farther along than he was Saturday with the sprained right ankle that was said to be, but surely does not look like it's, 90 percent . . . TE Taylor McNamara out with a sore back . . . S Ykili Ross out with a sprained shoulder, 50-50 for this week's game . . . Nickel back Jonathan Lockett back in gear and practicing with his mild shoulder sprain . . . Special teamer Jabari Ruffin worked out without his helmet or shoulder pads as he goes through concussion protocol and s also 50-50 for Saturday, Clay said . . . Ced Ware's hand is still sore but he practiced well . . . For more play-by-play on today's practice, check out TUESDAY COLORADO WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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