USC’s Been Tough on Tate…

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  Khalil Tate arrived at the Coliseum two seasons ago in the middle of his own coming-out party.

Arizona’s dynamic dual-threat quarterback had run for 840 yards and eight touchdowns over his previous four games, stunning the college football world and sending a Heisman Trophy hype train barreling towards Los Angeles, where he was set to face No. 12 USC.

That’s where things came screeching to a halt in 2017. The Trojans shut down Tate as a passer, forcing two interceptions and keeping him to a completion rate under 45%. They contained him as a runner, too, holding him to 6.2 yards per carry, less than half of what he’d averaged over four stunning games in October.

Since Tate’s breakout two years ago, few teams have been able to stifle him with regularity quite like USC (3-3 overall, 2-1 Pac-12). Over three games against USC, he’s completed just 45% of his passes, had four passes intercepted, and been forced into making plays with his feet only, often to little avail.

As Tate returns to the Coliseum for the final time on Saturday, in a must-win matchup of Pac-12 South foes, the Trojans are crossing their fingers that success against the conference’s most dangerous weapon continues.

But as USC coach Clay Helton contended this week, this Tate isn’t the same quarterback who swept into the Coliseum two seasons ago and ran the ball a career-high 26 times.

“He’s progressed so much as a quarterback,” Helton said. “I even showed the team. He’s doing such a nice job now of keeping his eyes up. He’s breaking contain and keeps his eyes up and he’s finding receivers downfield. … He’s showing himself as a passer, where when he was a younger player, it was 1-2, I’m out. Now he’s going through full-field progressions. He’s becoming a pro football player. He really is.”

Still, Tate remains more dangerous when sprinting past defenders on the perimeter, not contained in the pocket. And considering how poorly USC has defended scrambling quarterbacks and perimeter runs, Arizona (4-2, 2-1) probably won’t hesitate to unleash its elusive signal-caller in that fashion, no matter what recent history might suggest.

The Trojans have been trounced on the ground over their last three games, with 748 rushing yards allowed in that span. Last week against Notre Dame was just the fifth time in five years that USC allowed more than 300 rushing yards in a game.

As Helton sees it, explosive runs are the main culprit. But while runs of 20 yards or more have accounted for 28% of its total rushing yards allowed over the last three weeks, opponents have only managed four such runs.

Now, with Tate on tap, USC will confront perhaps the most explosive runner in the conference, while also facing a backfield comprised of four backs each averaging more than five yards per carry.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said that USC worked especially on protecting the edge and keeping contain in drills this week, with that matchup in mind.

“It’s hard to simulate [Tate’s] ability,” Pendergast said, “but we’re still working through that.”

Asked Thursday if USC might adopt a less aggressive approach to mitigate the explosive runs that gave its defense fits last week, Helton praised Pendergast’s approach.

“You have to throw them off-kilter with aggressiveness,” Helton said, “and that’s who we are. That’s our identity, to bring pressure.”

Corner concerns

Some hope remains that one of USC’s injured starting cornerbacks will be able to play Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who spent the first few days of this week in a walking boot, was a limited participant in practice Thursday. Taylor-Stuart (ankle) will be a “game-time decision” against Arizona, Helton said.

The status of USC’s other two starting corners is less optimistic. Olaijah Griffin, who leads USC in pass break-ups, is “doubtful” because of back issues, leaving freshman Chris Steele to take his place. Nickel corner Greg Johnson (shoulder) was ruled out earlier this week.

Helton confirmed that freshman Max Williams will step into Johnson’s slot role. If Taylor-Stuart is unable to go, Helton reiterated that freshmen Dorian Hewitt and Jayden Williams could rotate in that spot.

Helton also ruled out linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV, who remains in a walking boot. In his place, Kana’i Mauga (26) will start.

latimes.com

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TrojanDailyBlog members  —  Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which don’t necessarily pertain to any particular moderator post.

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illinoisusc
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Tate is so streaky you never know……..he could come out as the next Joe Montana or……..Joe Stinky…..if Sumlin pulls him early and puts in that freshman, Gunnell, I’d be watching close. There is something about that kid that I like.

TrojanRJJ
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Very dangerous article. Tate is a special talent. All this article does is motivate him to prove it wrong. I was at the last AZ/USC game in the Coliseum. SC went out to a large lead and controlled Tate. But, it was Clancy being Clancy, he did not substitute, and the SC D wore down and Tate brought AZ back to tie, mostly with Tate running. But the AZ D was also gassed and Ronald Jones helped rally SC. What decide the game was Rich Rod chose to have Tate pass rather than run. Ajene Harris picked off a poorly… Read more »

rleeholder1
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Tate is a true talent as a running QB, but SC has had the recipe for success in the past defensively. The best defense IMO is to keep the ball on offense for multi-play, clock chewing scoring drives. Possibly an increase in Stepp’s carries will help with that objective. I wish I could be there tomorrow for homecoming as it’s been 40 years since I received an MBA from USC. Unfortunately, health issues will keep me at home here in Lake Havasu City, AZ rooting on the Trojans. Fight On!

UtahTrojan
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The problem is each year our defensive players are a little bit slower, less able to make tackles in open space. We should win this game, but I will probably bite all of my fingernails off.

TrojanRJJ
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I think it is going to be a very high scoring game, decided by which team makes the fewer turnovers and mistakes on special teams. I really like AZ in this game. I would take the points.

Golden Trojan
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If you drink there in Utah, try a Vesper, easier on the fingers!

UtahTrojan
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I might have to try one, although getting quality alcohol out of our state liquor stores is not always easy. Good thing I am in Nevada often.

Jamaica
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I agree with you Utah, the overall talent level on this and last years’ teams have slacked off as the recruiting going on here is slacking off. There is some serious “tunnel vision” going on in what positions have lots of depth and have the better talent on this team. Then you have the other positions with less depth and talent. This and the less effective coaching have put this program where it is today. It all points to the desire and ability of the HC.

TrojanRJJ
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Rlee, Get well. My wife and I went on a trip to Canada with a tour company recently, partly by bus and partly by train. Most of us were “seasoned citizens”. One of our “tour mates” got on a bus (he was a bit late) and announced to the full bus: “Whatever you do, don’t get old!” We all got a real kick out of it.

Steveg
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Mt Rushmore
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We took a Viking River cruise and it was mostly all us seniors on it. Didn’t stop the party though, those old folks made me proud.

Jamaica
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Just discovered Crown Royal Vanilla yesterday on the golf course (it was cold and raining) and I took a couple swigs and that is some good stuff!

rleeholder1
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Crown Vanilla ‘n Coke is my drink of choice!