Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Just Sayin' . . . Mid-spring edition

Crossover time between football and hoops here. Let's talk.

It's goodbye hoops this week, hello football for the rest of the spring, summer and fall. Hoping that's enough time for you. And for redshirt freshman Jamel Cook, above with his fourth interception of last week, to get the job done.

*** Speaking of Jamel, the Florida DB looks like he could be the redshirt freshman for the defense that Sam Darnold was for the offense last fall . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And that would be fine with us. We'd like to see the tone-setter for this team come from the defense . . . Just Sayin'.

*** We're thinking that for a Trojan team that's looking at 12 straight games this fall, no bye until the last week, it's the defense that better show up every single week. That's how you survive that trap game . . . you don't let upsets happen if you don't let opponents score . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And yeah, we know defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is saying "It's too early to tell" just how much better this defense can be from the get-go than last year's but we think we can tell. There are five outside linebackers who can play and four inside. And with the exception of freshman Tayler Katoa, they all know what they're doing. In Clancy's communication-heavy defense, having the mid-line guys able to talk to the people in front of them and behind them is crucial. This team has a whole different look . . . Just Sayin'.

*** A team that has Connor Murphy, Oluwole Betiku and Jordan Iosefa as its backups outside and in starts from a pretty good place. Not sure there's a team in the Pac-12 where they would not start . . . Just Sayin'.

*** A team with Cameron Smith, John Houston, Uchenna Nwosu and Porter Gustin as its starting linebackers starts from a pretty good place with the new, improved 'Chenna playing as well as anybody in the country from what he's shown in the spring . . . Just Sayin'.

*** For the new guys, the answer is "just staying in the play book," Jamel Cook says. "And if I have any questions, I call Coach Clancy." We like the sound of that . . . Just Sayin'.

*** "The kid carries himself really well," secondary coach Ronnie Bradford says of Cook, who came up with four interceptions last week. "His athleticism speaks for itself." Yeah, it pretty much does . . . Just Sayin'.

*** That both Clancy and Clay Helton have had good things to say about the work of early entry freshman D-lineman Marlon Tuipulotu, up to a solid 305 pounds, is another piece of the defensive puzzle that could be falling in place here . . . Just Sayin'.

*** With a goal of three takeaways a game, up from just one and a half last fall, we like the way this spring has started -- and the way a coach with Clay's offensive pedigree has encouraged his defense to take it away from his offense. That will help both of them . . . Just Sayin'.

*** We liked Clay's mention of a name we haven't heard in a while on defense -- Ykili Ross -- as "doing a really good job." Big plus if Ykili becomes a factor back there. Also a reason USC can move Jamel to nickel . . . Just Sayin'. 

*** Without Nico and Toa on the O-line right now, not to mention Nathan Smith, it's very much a work in progress. The bonus play this spring has been the arrival from Kingsburg of 6-foot-6, 295-pound Andrew Vorhees, who could be looking for a date to the prom but is contending for a spot to play right away . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Really encouraged by the turnout of Trojan alums at Saturday's scrimmage -- on both sides. It's cool guys like Keith Rivers, Matt Barkley, Mike Williams and Sam Cunningham, were invited back to the family and just as cool that they wanted to be here. Really liked the interaction between them and the current players . . . Just Sayin'.

*** From down on the field in our Saturday location, one thing you could see -- and one thing we completely agree with Clay on -- is the way Sam Darnold has improved his recognition skills, something that he was very good at last fall. Well, he's even better at it now. On the plays coming our way, when a receiver either came open or was open from the snap, Sam saw him and hit him immediately the way he did with a ball on a circle route to Vavae Malepeai for what would have been a TD from the 15. Just like that. No hesitation. Bang. The ball was there even if Vavae's hands and head weren't quite as the ball sailed past his helmet and through his arms before he knew it was coming his way as soon as Sam did. This should be fun to watch, as should Vavae, who runs with a knack that belies his redshirt freshman status . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Ronald Jones says he's been watching cut-ups from Reggie Bush's practice tapes. We like watching Ronald for those moments on the field now that make us think back to those Reggie practice moments ourselves . . . Just Sayin'. 

*** We also like the way Clay said having a crowd out and having his players have to perform for the crowd the way they did Saturday is a good thing. We could not agree more . . . Just Sayin'.

*** But this Final Four week, we can't forget to salute the UNC Tar Heels for their willingness to spend $16.3 million in legal expenses since 2012 to beat the rap for the academic fraud and phony classes set up for thousands of athletes from 1993 to 2011 that may jeopardize their last two NCAA basketball titles but still has them in two straight Final Fours . . . Just Sayin'.

*** Also can't do anything but notice how when it damages an innocent guy like Todd McNair and benefits an embarrassed NCAA caught red-handed breaking its own rules, the organization has no problem with justice delayed. Just the way it's delaying justice for UNC, allowing a program far more guilty than USC to play for two straight national hoops titles when an innocent USC wasn't even allowed to go to bowl games or compete for Pac-10 titles its two years in the barrel . . . Just Sayin'.

*** And finally, for those astonished that the other USC, the one with less basketball talent but a tough-minded coach and players willing to put it all on the line on defense, is in the Final Four, here's why. We cite the analytics of Ken Pomeroy, whose numbers even the NCAA Committee has taken to citing. In his adjusted defensive stats, the other USC -- South Carolina -- is No. 2 in the nation. No. 1 is Gonzaga. See a pattern here? No team lower than No. 21 has ever won a national title. So where did our USC Trojans finish in the adjusted defensive efficiency stats? They were No. 91. Gives you an idea of where the improvement must come for this program to get itself to where the other USC has beaten it to the punch . . . Just Sayin'.

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


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