Adoree’ Jackson showed hints of his playmaking ability during the first half of USC’s season.
He caught a touchdown pass in the opener against Fresno State. He broke up a pass in the end zone against Stanford and tipped another that resulted in an interception against Oregon State. In several games, Jackson appeared one move away from returning kickoffs for touchdowns.
Against Utah, the freshman finally showcased his speed and elusiveness, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
The former Gardena Serra High star also forced a fumble after a Utah receiver caught a pass at USC’s one-yard line.
Jackson’s individual performance did not assuage his disappointment over a defeat that dropped the Trojans’ record to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12 Conference going into Saturday’s game at Washington State.
“I take it personal,” he said after the loss to Utah. “I could have made better plays, more plays. That’s how I always thought, even in high school. If we lost I’d always blame myself. There’s something I could’ve done better.”
Jackson’s touchdown return, along with a 27-yard return after Utah’s game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left, increased his kickoff return average to 33.7 yards, which ranks fifth in the nation.
Jackson began the season playing on offense, defense and special teams. He has not played receiver since becoming a starting cornerback against Arizona State, a span of four games.
Jackson played a season-high 88 plays against Utah, 69 on defense, 19 on special teams.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said injuries and “different things” have made it imperative for Jackson to forsake offense.
Cornerback Josh Shaw’s season-long absence because of an indefinite suspension thinned a secondary that includes Jackson and scholarship cornerbacks Kevon Seymour, Chris Hawkins, Jonathan Lockett, Lamont Simmons, Rahshead Johnson, Devian Shelton and Ryan Dillard.
Freshman John Plattenburg is playing safety.
“I’d like to use him more on offense,” Sarkisian said of Jackson. “We just can’t right now. I think we’d see more of that playmaking ability on the offensive side of the ball as well.”
It was only one play, but backup quarterback Max Browne was happy to have gained experience when the result of a game was still undecided.
Browne, a third-year sophomore, replaced Cody Kessler after Kessler sustained a hit early in the first quarter against Utah.
“It happened quick,” Browne said. “But it was good to finally get some real meaningful action.”
With USC facing a first-and-goal situation at the seven-yard line, Browne attempted a pass to tight end Bryce Dixon, who was near the back of the end zone. The ball was tipped away by a Utah defensive back.
Browne said he was not surprised that Sarkisian called for a pass. “It was a great call,” Browne said. “I would have called that again.
“Just the idea that for defensive coordinators, when a backup comes in they kind of expect run. So it was a great call. They covered it well, but I think Coach Sark would have called that 10 times out of 10.”
Browne has played in four games and has completed three of seven passes for 30 yards.
In a video posted on USC’s website, Sarkisian said Monday that the coaching staff was thinking of playing freshman Toa Lobendahn at left tackle.
Chad Wheeler suffered a season-ending knee injury during the game against Utah and was replaced by senior Aundrey Walker, who has 18 career starts. Sarkisian said Sunday that Walker would remain in the spot. Lobendahn has started every game at left guard.