USC Football

Keep It Simple Stupid — USC's offensive simplicity a net positive

March 13, 2019

At last: Football. 

The first week of spring ball is in the books and, after weeks of questions, we’ve finally begun to get answers. Or, at least, snippets of them.

After each week of spring ball, we’ll break down the three biggest stories of the week, what it means and why that matters.

We start this week with the long-anticipated debut of Graham Harrell’s offense, an unexpected return to the field and a shockingly good performance from an under-the-radar true freshman.


All week long, USC players and coaches returned to one particular theme when describing Harrell’s vaunted air raid scheme – simplicity.

You heard it from someone as loquacious as the man himself, who unspooled the quote of the week when describing how he believes the rest of the coaching staff “at times… look at me like I’m crazy” for a playbook that contains all of four run plays.

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY
Amon-Ra St. Brown caught 60 passes for 750 yards and 3 scores in 2018.

Or you could simply take Amon-Ra St. Brown’s far more succinct word for it.

“[Last year, there were] seven words in a play, he told the media last Monday. “Now there’s about three.”

This isn’t to say a great offense can’t be intricate. The degree of difficulty is so much higher, however, and this is not the time to make things more challenging than they need to be given how much work USC has to do to reclaim its perch atop the Pac-12. Nor, for that matter, would you want to, given the weekly time constraints on coaching college athletes.

And, most of all, why overcomplicate things when your offensive skill talent is better than anyone else’s on your schedule? That was Ed Oregeron’s approach during his successful interim tenure and while USC fans can, should and still do debate if administration made the right call cutting him loose, the fact remains that Coach O was dead on there.

In an ideal world, USC is both out-scheming and out-talenting their opponents every week. But the latter alone can and will work if the offense doesn’t get in the way. For years, the Trojans’ offense sputtered off the tracks because of exactly that. Don’t expect that to be a problem in 2019.

Back So Soon?

Of all the three players who were rumored to or ultimately did enter the transfer portal at the start of spring camp, Greg Johnson was the most indispensable. Simply put, there weren’t and still aren’t enough proven bodies in the secondary for USC to shrug its collective shoulders at the prospect of a high four-star recruit with legitimate seasoning walking out the door.

Trojan Insider
Cornerback Greg Johnson (9) is back at USC and that’s a good thing for the defense.

So the fact that Johnson not only withdrew his name from the portal but, following his second season-ending injury in as many years, is healthy enough to participate in spring practice is a borderline godsend.

And that will remain the case no matter what happens from here on out. Best-case scenario, Johnson matures into the quality starter his quick-twitch athleticism has always made possible.  Worst-case, he’s functional depth. The Trojans prefer the first one but they need both, and they especially need both this spring for a depleted cornerback group to provide any reasonable facsimile of competition for a wide receiver core that should be pushed like any other group.

Johnson is a big piece of that because, in either range of outcomes, he is something of a known commodity – more so, incredibly, than any other cornerback on the roster by virtue by of his on-field experience and the collective lack of it across the rest of the board.

We haven’t gotten an answer on why he entered the transfer portal and we may never wind up getting it. At this juncture, on this roster, it doesn’t matter. He is staying at USC, and USC is better for him doing so.

Slovis Showing Out

We knew Drake Jackson‍ would be good. We knew Jude Wolfe‍ would look the part physically. We knew Stanley Taufoou‍, already, had the body mass to bull rush college linemen. We knew not to get our hopes up about seeing Max Williams on the field, but that he was nevertheless charging ahead in his rehab. We knew Ralen Goforth‍ would attack his first camp like an animal. We knew touted junior college transfer Nick Figueroa‍ would be college ready. We knew Briton Allen‍ could hit.

We didn’t know Kedon Slovis‍ would look this mature.

Trojan Insider
Three-star quarterback Kedon Slovis having a strong spring camp.

With apologies to John Jackson III, who showed out well enough to alleviate a few of the sudden depth concerns on defense, no newcomer turned as many heads as the Arizona native. It isn’t that Slovis looked better than J.T. Daniels or is reasonably challenging for the starting job any time soon. It’s that he didn’t look like a project whatsoever.

That wouldn’t have been a bad thing, necessarily. Sandwiched between Daniels and 2020 commit Bryce Young, that’s all USC actually needs him to be. But Slovis displayed far more than that this week, displaying an ease in the offense and an arm good enough to make the throws he needs to. You can write some of the former off as a byproduct of Harrell’s offense, should you want to be cynical. But the latter is absolutely a welcome surprise after concerns throughout the recruiting process.

It also could be a larger signifier, too, that just because USC missed on a plethora of blue chips targets doesn’t mean the lesser heralded names can’t go. Mind you, in this case, Slovis was something of a Plan A, and among the very short list of prospects the Trojans pursued under center. It’s far too early to definitively say USC saw something others didn’t. But it isn’t too soon to wonder whether the naysayers were too focused on what Slovis’ shortcomings rather than his strengths. If nothing else, he’s showcasing them well ahead of schedule.    

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