USC to shut down tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe because of a leg injury

USC tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe has been limited because of a leg injury and will be shut down after playing in the season opener.
(Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

When USC coach Clay Helton spoke with tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe recently, they did not talk about Imatorbhebhe returning quickly to the field from a leg injury. Instead they discussed a topic that does not foretell a particularly speedy recovery.

They talked about linebacker John Houston Jr.

Helton said Sunday that USC will shut down Imatorbhebhe, who has dealt for more than a month with a nagging leg injury, described by Helton as a thigh or hip flexor sprain. The delay is a setback for Imatorbhebhe, who took part in 20 plays in USC’s season opener but not appear in uniform Saturday against Stanford.

“I was hoping that it would get better and better but it’s just not,” Helton said. “So I’d rather at that position, how much change of direction there is, just shut him down, let the doctors, physicians get him healthy and get him back.”


Helton did not give a timetable for Imatorbhebhe’s return.

“He’s one of those very, very specially skilled athletes, and if they’re not 100% right, it’s hard,” Helton said. “So we’re going to invest in getting him 100% and however long that takes I really don’t have a crystal ball for.”

But Helton did tell Imatorbhebhe about the path of Houston, who had a nagging injury that kept him off the field during his first season in the program. Houston had a back injury that lingered and USC made him a redshirt.

Imatorbhebhe’s injury isn’t likely to last as long. Helton said the two players’ injuries differ. And Helton did not completely rule out Imatorbhebhe against Texas this weekend, though he classified him as doubtful.

But after USC’s first game, Imatorbhebhe expressed mild frustration with his limited role, and Helton wanted to explain to Imatorbhebhe that patience is often prudent. Two seasons later, Houston is a starting linebacker.

“In the long run it helped him,” Helton said.

For now, though, the loss of Imatorbhebhe deprives quarterback Sam Darnold of one of his most dangerous targets. In Imatorbhebhe’s absence, USC has started Tyler Petite. Petite has six catches for 59 yards.

Scouting Texas

A week after preparing for Stanford’s plodding, powerful, north-to-south attack, USC has a different challenge on its hands.


The offense run by Texas’ first-year coach, Tom Herman, is a significant change. Herman wins as much with his scheme as he does with overwhelming might and talent. He prefers an offense heavy with read options and run-pass-options, and he allows his quarterback to sling the ball.

Helton said Herman “uses every inch of the field.”

He called Herman “one of the most brilliant offensive minds in college football. He’s done it at Ohio State, he’s done it at Houston, he’s going to do it at Texas.”

Without the same talent pool at Houston, Herman’s offenses were good but not great. His three-season tenure as offensive coordinator at Ohio State, which has access to the same level of recruits as Herman does at Texas, is more instructive. In the S&P+ offensive rating, Ohio State ranked No. 16 in 2012, No. 2 in 2013 and No. 1 in 2014.


Without Herman, Ohio State slid to No. 20 in 2015 and No. 23 in 2016.

Texas lost its first game to Maryland, but its offense was not the problem. Texas had 473 yards in that game. It only mustered 98 on the ground, but the situation improved quite a bit in Week 2 against San Jose State, when Texas ran for 406 yards

Quick hits

Freshman defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu suffered a knee ligament sprain against Stanford that will not require surgery, Helton said. He is classified as day to day. … Linebacker Porter Gustin was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Sunday night for a shoulder injury. … Kicker Mike Brown, who handles kickoffs but not place kicking, tore a knee ligament against Stanford and will be out for the season. … Right tackle Chuma Edoga sprained a wrist against Stanford but missed only part of one series. “I expect him to be OK, but he’s very sore,” Helton said.


Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand