In an emotional USC locker room after the Trojans’ 38-35 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, coach Clay Helton thanked quarterback Jack Sears in front of the team.
“It was a monumental effort to go 20 of 28 and put us in position to have a chance to win a football game down on some people and some personnel,” Helton said. “I can’t thank him enough.”
Helton actually had more gratitude for Sears, the redshirt freshman from San Clemente High who played his first college snaps starting in place of the injured JT Daniels. As Sears finished up an answer in the postgame news conference, Helton jumped in with another helping of praise for Sears and fellow backup Matt Fink, who was injured in relief of Daniels on Oct. 20 at Utah.
“In today’s time,” Helton said, “when you get disappointment in a training camp and other guys get named the starter, a lot of time you see guys say, ‘You know what, I’m out.’ And neither guy did that. Notably with Jack, but Matt Fink, too, I want to be able to say thank you. The last two weeks, when called upon, the training that they have done from the first day of training camp all the way to now is very much appreciated. They practiced like starters, and today, this kid, as well as Matty last week, played like a starter.”
With Sears under center, USC moved down the field more consistently and with a better rhythm than it has since the win over Washington State. The Trojans used Sears’ speed and mobility to get him out of the pocket and let him see the field clearly. They also ran an array of quick passes and screens and gave him easy outlets like tight end Josh Falo in addition to USC’s talented receivers.
Sears finished 20 of 28 for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and seemed to be picking up confidence with every pass.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game setting,” said Sears, who led San Clemente to its first state championship in 2016 in his last game. “I got more comfortable in the second half. The guys never stopped believing in me. It was fun to rally with them and keep competing, and we fought until the very end.”
Sears was asked why he stayed at USC when he could have transferred after Daniels won the job.
“I love these guys,” Sears said. “I’ve been with them for over two years. This guy next to me [Helton], I believed in what he has going here, and I still do, and I’ll fight for him every down, every play, no matter what’s going on. I love this university and value the degree from this place, and it never even crossed my mind.”
Injuries pile up
Helton said that safety Marvell Tell suffered stingers (neck and nerve injuries) in the loss at Utah. He said they considered playing Tell on Saturday, but Tell told Helton on Friday that he wasn’t comfortable enough to go.
Without Tell, USC elected to move nickel back Ajene Harris to free safety and started Harris’ backup, Jonathan Lockett, at the nickel spot.
The news only got worse for USC’s depth in the secondary during Saturday’s game. Helton said starting strong safety Talanoa Hufanga, the team leader with 11 tackles, broke a collarbone.