Justin Davis was doing a bit of upbeat analysis on this USC offense last week after practice. Said he liked how in the Arizona State game, "we finally showed how we'd been flying around at the beginning of fall practice." Not to mention the spring and summer.
And then it stopped.
Lots of reasons why. Rookie coaching staff. Three tough games away from home. And yes, Stanford with their two starting corners healthy, appeared to be one of those tough games.
But now, that offense that we saw before the season got here appears to be back. JuJu Smith-Schuster is getting help at wide receiver from Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett, who added 15 catches for 173 yards to JuJu's five for 113.. But that was almost to be expected.
What wasn't, well not after watching USC's first five games, was what happened at the tight end spot with the next two receivers in USC's 21-17 win over Colorado, sophomore Tyler Petite and redshirt freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe, responsible for all three touchdowns. For Imatorbhebhe, it was his first college receiving TD. For Petite with a pair, they were his first of the season and second and third of his career.
Tyler "came up to me after [the game]," Daniel said. "He was like 'Tight ends 21, Colorado 14.' But I think we're both really glad we just got the W. The way our offense is. We're growing so much right now. When we can get involved like that, it makes things like so much easier . . . for guys like JuJu, guys like Darreus, guys like Tay and Steven because we have so many weapons. I know we're both really glad we got to kind of have a big part in the win today, so it was pretty cool."
Both were elevated on this day with starter, grad student Taylor McNamara, nursing a lower back strain and playing the role of advisor and cheerleader. "They did a great job. I don't think they could have played better," Taylor said. "They made their plays when they were called upon. They played awesome. I'm proud of both of them . . . They know how to play and I told them to play hard and have fun . . .They did. I think they both had fun."
But as much as the elevation of the tight ends coincides a bit with the elevation of Sam Darnold, it's not all that. "It all depends on the coverage," Taylor said, "who they decide to cover. We've got a lot of weapons. They're doubling guys outside . . . and it creates some opportunities for us."
As it did on the game's first score for Daniel: "I ran like my vertical concept thing," Daniel said of the 32-yard seam streak. "I looked and I saw Sammy throw it. It was kind of inside. I tried my best to get there before it hit the ground and we scored, so it was pretty cool."
Daniel said although he wasn't certain, that he might have been the primary target. Sam later said he was the second one on that play. Here's the difference. "In practice it was the same even when Max [Browne] was starting and stuff, but it's just cool that what we do in practice can kind of come over to the games now. It's not like we run the same plays in practice and we never get the ball. We get the ball all the time. They use us a lot, so it's cool that we actually got to do it out there. I just think that's another step of us growing as an offense."
Pretty neat concept. What you do in practice, you now do on game day. And you do it even if the starter isn't able to play.
"Yea. That just shows how deep we are and that speaks a lot to Taylor and his leadership he has in our room because he's the guy that always gets us ready," Daniel said. "He's been in college for five years. He has stories on stories on stories. He made sure we were prepared for this moment. He was like, 'If your number is called, y'all got to go out there and ball.' He was our biggest cheerleader on the sideline."
Petite, on his crazy first TD that had him running a pattern opposite the play to drag a defender with him, said he had no idea what happened on the fumble or the scoop and scramble by Sam. They do have a sense of where the other is, says Tyler, who will be one of five housemates when their apartment is ready with Cameron Smith, student coach Jonathan LaBonty and walkon receiver Jake Russell, a San Clemente product like Sam.
"I didn't see the play but I heard it," said Tyler, who just kept running his pattern until Colorado lost him. "I was just hoping he'd see me." He did. "I picked it up . . . and then I found Tyler," Sam said of his scramble play on the fumbled ball that had him circling 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
BY THE NUMBERS
*** 10-1-2: How big a game did Uchenna Nwosu have? Well, a career-high 10 tackles, one sack and two pass breakups big for the outside linebacker who's really figuring out how to play this game.
*** 2,325: With his 83 yards rushing on 13 carries before suffering a high ankle sprain, senior Justin Davis moved into 14th place on USC's career rushing yards with 2,325 jumping ahead of former teammate Buck Allen's 2,306.
*** 68,302: It didn't look like that many but even if it represents total tickets sold, it's still not bad considering all the predictions of 50,000-55,000 for the last two weeks after USC's 1-3 start.
*** 2-1: That's the record it takes to be in first place in the Pac-12 South this week so when you look at it alphabetically, there you have Arizona State (2-1) and Colorado (2-1) tied with Utah (2-1) atop the Pac-12 South, both with losses to USC, fourth at 2-2. The more you look at that Utah loss, the sicker it makes you feel knowing USC would have had the tiebreaker against all three with a three-way sweep.
*** 7 of 14: Some improvement here for USC, after going 3 of 13 last week on third down conversions. Colorado was held to six of 17, same as ASU last week, so bit of an improvement there for USC in the head-to-head.
*** 38 for 1,723: With his 38-yard kickoff return, Adoree' Jackson tied Curtis Conway's USC career record of 1,723 yards. Curtis did it on 73 returns. Adoree' has had just 64 with at least six games to go.
*** 6 straight: For the first time since winning 12 straight from Oct. 13, 2007 to Oct. 24, 2009, USC has won six straight home games.
*** 539: For the second straight week, USC gained more than 500 yards with Saturday's 539 a season high. Last season, USC had just three games above 500 yards.
*** 11-0: USC's all-time unbeaten record against the Buffs continues.
THEY SAID IT
CLAY HELTON: On his advice to Sam Darnold: "When you have a kid with his instinct and creativity, I don't think you handcuff him. I told him, 'Drive it like you stole it.' You play the game with no fear and he does."
COLORADO COACH MIKE MACINTYRE: "They played really well defensively and we shot ourselves in the foot. We didn't play typical football, didn't play fast. They had a lot to do with that. They did a good job blitzing us some . . . they did a good job tipping a few passes . . . their secondary played well and they didn't really let us have a big play.
HELTON AGAIN: On what he was thinking in the third quarter with Colorado driving for two scores and a tie when it probably should have been a 28-0 USC lead: 'My primary emotion was to stay poised for the team. You had a lead, 14-0, not playing well, then the next thing you know, it's 14-7 and then 14-all. If you get over-emotional or start panicking, the team is going to feel that . . . All we were doing is hurting ourselves . . . Just go down and make one drive and end this thing."
SAM DARNOLD: On the win: "I hate using this word but the first word that comes to mind is 'lucky.' it's not luck. You make your own luck. The defense did a great job today. As an offense, you're not going to win a lot of games turning the ball over four times. It's something we've got to keep working on in practice.
CU WR BRYCE BOBO: "I think we matched up well with them. Usually, at the wide receiver spots a s a group, we dominate as a team. This time we had a bigger challenge with Adoree' and Biggie. We have to improve."
Just two injuries that matter and one not so much . . . a right high ankle sprain had USC's leading rusher, senior Justin Davis, carted off and in a boot and on crutches later. It's not as serious as his freshman year when he had torn ligaments in his ankle and he's looking at the bye week Oct. 22 before the Cal game to give him time to get back missing only Arizona Saturday, he hopes . . . For the second straight week, nickel back Jonathan Lockett suffered something between a stinger and a mild shoulder sparin. He came back to play with it last week and that seems to be the plan this week . . . Zach Banner's sprained ankle prevented him from suiting up this week after keeping him out against Arizona State last week . . . he was spelled again by Jordan Simmons, as the starter, and Chuma Edoga, who joined a unit that was pretty much penalty free. Not sure where he stands going forward.
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