A USC special teams group that is desperately trying to find its footing after three subpar games will have to do so without one of its only reliable parts.
USC coach Clay Helton’s fears from Saturday night were confirmed Sunday when an MRI revealed that placekicker Chase McGrath has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the regular season.
McGrath was injured during the third quarter of a 37-14 loss to the Texas Longhorns. McGrath, who had made six of his seven field-goal attempts this season, ran onto the field with a chance to boot a 49-yard attempt to pull USC to within 23-17. Instead, the Trojans allowed a Texas player to burst through the line and block McGrath’s attempt. Sometime between that moment and the completion of Anthony Wheeler’s 46-yard return for a touchdown, McGrath’s season ended too.
“The only good news,” Helton said, “is because it’s within the four-game period, he will get his redshirt year back, which will make him a redshirt sophomore next year.”
An NCAA rule change this offseason allows players to appear in up to four games and still be able to use a redshirt season.
USC recruited Brown out of Linfield Christian in Temecula as a scholarship kicker. McGrath, who came to USC out of Santa Ana Mater Dei as a walk-on, beat out Brown for the placekicker job in fall camp last season. McGrath eventually earned a scholarship.
Helton can only hope that having two kickers taking up scholarships is about to pay off.
“I’m very confident,” Helton said. “[Brown] had a really good training camp. I was really proud for him coming off a major surgery, a knee surgery as a kicker. To be honest with you, he pushed Chase during training camp and made Chase a better kicker because of it. Now it’s Mike’s opportunity. He’s put a lot of work into it to get back.”
Punters must improve
Last season, punter Reid Budrovich performed well enough in the starting role to earn a scholarship entering his senior season in 2018. Budrovich averaged 41.6 yards on 55 punts, with 23 pinning opponents within their own 20-yard line and 11 traveling at least 50 yards. Only three were touchbacks.
The two combined to average 31 yards per punt against Texas, contributing to what Helton described as a “bad draw” for his defense Saturday night in regard to field position.
“In special teams what stood out was the inconsistency in the punting game,” Helton said. “I thought the protection and coverage were there. We just need to hit the ball better. I know [special teams coordinator John Baxter] is going to continue to work with both kids and see who is most effective for Washington State.”
With a short week coming because of a Friday night game, USC will be monitoring several injuries from Saturday night. Defensive tackle Malik Dorton suffered a bruised quad, offensive guard Andrew Vorhees sprained an MCL and inside linebacker John Houston has a wrist injury.