College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Freshman quarterback leads USC to win over UCLA

The JT Daniels transfer watch should begin anytime.

JT Daniels is the modern equivalent of Wally Pipp. Pipp was a first baseman for the New York Yankees back in 1925 when he took a day off because of a headache. A rookie named Lou Gehrig started in his place, had a great day at the plate and it was 2,130 games before Gehrig came out of the lineup.

A year ago this time, Daniels was the USC Trojans freshman quarterback. He won the starting job in training camp, started 11 of 12 games and threw for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns in a down year for the Trojans.

Even with a new offensive system and new play caller, Daniels started the season at quarterback this season for the Trojans, but went down with a knee injury in the opening game against Fresno State.

He may never see the starting lineup again.

Despite having two older quarterbacks competing for the backup role behind Daniels, Kevon Slovis, a true freshman from Arizona, began the season as Daniels backup and replaced him when he went down against Fresno State.

All he did was surpass Daniels’ stats from last season. In 11 games, Slovis has passed for 3,242 yards with 28 touchdowns.

He saved his best work for last, throwing for 515 yards and four touchdowns as the Trojans defeated crosstown rival UCLA, 52-35 Nov. 23 to keep the Trojans outside hopes for a Pac 12 South title alive.

The Trojans need Colorado to upset Utah Nov. 30 to tie for the division lead. The Trojans would win the title for its win over Utah earlier in the season. Unfortunately, Colorado is a 28-point underdog to Utah as of Nov. 26.

That doesn’t take away from Slovis’ game against the Bruins. The Trojans have a tremendous receiving corps and Slovis took advantage of that and UCLA’s weak secondary. Four of his receivers had more than 100 yards receiving on the afternoon, led by senior Michael Pittman, who caught 13 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns. 

Sophomore receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught eight passes for 128 yards, freshman Drake London caught eight for 142 yards and a touchdown and junior Tyler Vaughns caught six for 106 yards and a touchdown.

The Trojans looked as good as they have looked all season offensively.

Vavae Malepeai returned to the backfield after knee surgery and gained 60 yards in 10 carries and Stephen Carr gained 87 yards in 11 carries as the Trojans rolled up 643 yards.

Of course, the defense was suspect as usual, allowing the Bruins to gain 540 yards from scrimmage.

The defense did slowdown Joshua Kelley this year. He was held to 45 yards in 15 carries after shredding the Trojans defense for 289 yards last year.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gained 431 yards against the Trojans, 367 in the air and threw three touchdown passes.

The loss knocked the Bruins out of bowl game contention. The Trojans will probably be the third or fourth best Pac 12 bowl team after Utah, Oregon and possibly Washington.

But the speculation around USC football right now isn’t what bowl game the Trojans are going to. It’s who will be the coach next year.

After a 3-3 start, the Trojans have won five out of six games, improving by three wins from last year’s 5-7 record.

Trojans boosters and fans want Clay Helton gone. The people who will make that decision — university President Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn say Helton will be evaluated at the end of the season, which, except for the bowl game, is here.

The Trojans are a flawed program. Their defense gives up too many yards and points and commits too many stupid penalties. The special teams, with the exception of place kicker Chase McGrath, have been terrible, too, and the Trojans don’t have a lot of depth on the offensive line and running back.

That being said, Helton hasn’t done a horrible job as coach, either. He isn’t Ted Tollner, Larry Smith or Paul Hackett to name a few of the failures the Trojans have hired in the last 30 years.

I understand the desire Trojan fans have to hire Urban Meyer. Next to Nick Saban, he’s the best college coach of the last 20 years. He will put new energy in the program that has been missing since Pete Carroll escaped to Seattle 10 years ago ahead of the NCAA witch-hunt.

But, Meyer comes with a certain about of baggage, baggage the new administration at USC might not want to carry because of other crises that have hit the university in the past year or two. Also, Meyer had health issues his last year at Ohio State and might not want the job.

Whoever is coaching the Trojans next year won’t have to worry about a starting quarterback. Slovis is here for at least two more years.

Where JT Daniels ends up is anybody’s guess.

LONG HANGOVER: In the NFL, they often talk about the Super Bowl hangover that teams that lose the Super Bowl suffer. The Super Bowl loser often finds it hard to even make the playoffs the next season.

The Rams find themselves in the position after that horrible 45-6 drubbing they suffered at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens Nov. 25.

Yes, the Ravens and second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson are good. The Rams made them look like a combination between the New England Patriots and the old Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football with the entire country watching.

Jackson threw for 169 yards and five touchdown and ran for 95 more yards on only eight carries.

The Rams fell behind 14-0 and 21-3 in the second quarter before folding up the tent in the second half, putting themselves four games behind the 49ers and three games the Seahawks in the NFC West race and two games behind Minnesota in the wild card race.

The Rams get a relative break in the schedule this week against Arizona, but after that it is the Seahawks, the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers before they face Arizona again the final week of the season. They need to go 3-2 just to finish above .500.

At least they aren’t the Chargers, who are 4-7 heading into a game with Denver Dec. 1.

A CHRISTMAS GIFT: The Lakers and the Clippers play each other Dec. 25 at 5 p.m. on national television. Two of the top seven teams will stay home for the holidays and entertain the rest of the country.

The Lakers are surprisingly the best team in the league one month into the season and the Clippers trail them by three games.

By the time Christmas rolls around both teams will be acclimated to their new superstars — Anthony Davis with the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers.

LeBron James is playing with an energy he rarely showed last year for the Lakers, meaning he really likes playing with Davis or really hated playing for Luke Walton.

Frank Vogel has done such a good job coaching the Lakers that no one has mentioned Jason Kidd’s name in months.

That Christmas game is something to look forward to as we face Thanksgiving and its football feast Nov. 28.