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USC will be able to assess its improvement after Saturday's game vs. Texas

USC will be able to assess its improvement after Saturday's game vs. Texas
Texas running back Tre Watson (5) runs the ball against Tulsa's Brandon Johnson (29) on Sept. 8. (Tim Warner / Getty Images)

The Texas Longhorns nearly stole one from USC last season at the Coliseum, taking the lead with 45 seconds left on a touchdown drive that spanned 91 yards on 14 plays. A year later, USC coach Clay Helton has simmered on it long enough to diagnose the problem.

“I looked at the difference in those first three quarters and that fourth quarter,” Helton said, “and we wore out in that fourth quarter.”

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Texas’ offense under head coach Tom Herman employs an up-tempo, no-huddle attack that aims to get the number of plays into the 80s and push a defense to the brink of exhaustion. The Longhorns got 75 on USC in two overtimes and still got their desired result.

One of Helton’s priorities this offseason was to increase depth, particularly on the defensive line, for this exact scenario. The Trojans will know a lot more about how far they’ve come after Saturday night.

“I think our team’s in very good condition,” Helton said. “But we do plan on playing a lot of guys. We’ve talked about it as a staff, taking the approach we did with UNLV and being able to roll guys in waves when given the opportunity with substitution.”

Factor in the expected Texas humidity, and the strong chance of rain forecast over the weekend in Austin, and the Trojans have had to prepare for more than just an increased number of plays.

“We know they’ve got a tropical depression down there that’s producing a lot of rain,” Helton said. “We’ve worked every day with wet balls, both in the center-quarterback exchange and the run mesh as well as individual catching drills … just to teach wideouts how to body catch, how to catch without gloves, and teach quarterbacks how to hold the ball lighter, not to squeeze it so it doesn’t slip out of your hands.”

Helton said that whether or not it rains , prepping for it should help the Trojans at some point this year.

He has been impressed with the way freshman quarterback JT Daniels has thrown with a wet ball this week.

“It doesn’t look anything different,” Helton said. “Sam [Darnold] was the same way.”

Kicker inspired confidence

Helton fondly recalled the clutch kicking of sophomore placekicker Chase McGrath in last season’s win over Texas. McGrath made the first two field goals of his college career against the Longhorns — a 31-yarder with no time left to send the game to overtime and a 42-yarder to win it in the second overtime.

“I just remember the look in his eye, of confidence and no fear,” Helton said, “and like he was made for the moment. I totally felt like the man was going to make both of these. It wasn’t any deer in the headlights. He drilled both of them. It was a big opportunity for him, and he made the most of it.”

McGrath has shown the same confidence this season, making six of his seven attempts.

More big receivers

USC’s defensive backs spent all of last week preparing to battle with Stanford’s big and physical outside receiver, JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The Trojans held Arcega-Whiteside to four catches for 62 yards a week after he had torched San Diego State for six catches for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

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Helton said it was good preparation for Texas receivers Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

“What has separated them is their deep ball explosion,” Helton said. “Something we had to do last week with JJ, and we’ve got two more coming this week.”

Etc.

Helton said that right tackle Chuma Edoga (illness) was back at practice Thursday and looked good for Saturday.

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