Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 11, 2018 at 9:16 pm.

USC seeks offensive consistency ahead of Texas trip

A new-look USC offense needed almost two full quarters to get going in Week 1 vs. UNLV. In Week 2, a similar ignition eluded the Trojans in a 17-3 loss to Pac-12 rival Stanford.

USC (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) now travels to face a Texas squad that last season gave a more veteran Trojans offense four quarters’ worth of trouble, intercepting current New York Jets starting quarterback Sam Darnold twice while holding the Trojans to just 17 points in regulation.

Of course, the Trojans would have welcomed 17 points in last week’s loss at Stanford. Despite besting the Cardinal in third-down efficiency (8-of-17 vs. 4-of-13), first downs (20 vs. 13) and nearly matching them in total yards (332 vs. 342), stalled drives in Stanford territory doomed the Trojans to just a field goal.

“When you play Stanford, you know you’re going to have limited opportunities on possessions,” said USC coach Clay Helton. “It’s our job to get the offense finishing drives and scoring points.”

A limited number of possessions refers to Stanford’s methodical offensive approach that keeps opposing offenses on the sideline, and USC can expect a similar approach in Week 3. Texas led opponents in time-of-possession 31:19 to 28:41 a season ago. The Longhorns owed much of that to one of the more prolific turnover-creating defenses in college football.

Texas ranked No. 16 nationally a season ago with 26 takeaways, including the two garnered from Darnold. Turnovers contributed to USC’s offensive woes at Stanford, with quarterback JT Daniels throwing a pair of interceptions. The Trojans also lost a fumble.

Giveaways can be an inevitable byproduct of starting a true freshman — in last year’s matchup, Texas then-freshman Sam Ehlinger threw a couple of picks — and Helton realizes the USC offense faces a learning curve.

“We have a quarterback learning lessons with each rep he gets,” he said. “We’re learning as a staff where his strengths are.”

But as Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin adapt scheme to Daniels, the Trojans enter the week uncertain of his status. Daniels sustained a hand injury at Stanford and underwent an MRI that did not reveal structural damage, but will require reevaluation on Tuesday.

Daniels’ uncertainty means reserve Matt Fink is on deck. Fink appeared for special zone-read packages in both Week 1 and Week 2. His insertion into the lineup would likely mean greater emphasis on the run game, which needs an improvement after a collective 3.1-yard per carry showing at Stanford.