Clay Helton began his Sunday news conference with the positives from USC’s dominant 48-14 win at Arizona Saturday afternoon.
Then he turned to the Trojans' injuries, and began, ‘We got some bad news…’
USC has lost slot receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. for the season. Mitchell went down with a non-contact injury on an Arizona punt. Initial x-rays at Arizona Stadium Saturday came back negative, but an MRI today revealed he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament.
"It's sad for him," Helton said. "An unbelievable kid who was really having by far his best season as a Trojan.”
Helton said you could tell Mitchell’s impact by how affected the team was on the sideline after the injury, especially the wide receiver group. “They looked up to him, an older kid…He will be missed.”
One of the most explosive players in the country coming out of Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, Mitchell has struggled with injuries throughout his USC career. He tore his right ACL during summer workouts before his freshman season and has fought through multiple ankle injuries.
Mitchell had been his healthiest this year and was coming off his best game of the year, catching six passes for 63 yards last week against Colorado.
A part-time starter, he is third on the team with 24 receptions and fourth with 229 yards. He has one touchdown reception this season after having four last year. His backup Deontay Burnett will take over the slot role in USC’s three-receiver sets with Jalen Greene getting the first opportunity to fill in behind Burnett.
Burnett has turned into one of the Trojans’ most reliable targets since being thrown into the mix last year at Notre Dame when Mitchell was out with a sprained ankle. Burnett caught three passes for 53 yards against the Irish in his first career road game and a week later had three catches for 82 yards. Burnett has 23 catches this season with multiple receptions in five of the seven games. On Saturday, Burnett caught one pass against Arizona — an 11-yard touchdown.
Helton left open the possibility of a freshman receiver being elevated to a backup slot role. Trevon Sidney and Velus Jones Jr. are the two most likely options. But the first chance will go to Greene, who USC has tried to find ways to get on the field because of his versatility. Green has three catches for 41 yards this season and has carried the ball four times for 12 yards.
A couple of Mitchell's former teammates send their thoughts to him on Twitter:
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