Anthony Lucas shrugged, stone-faced, when asked his excitement for chasing around a slippery shapeshifter at quarterback leading USC’s first opponent.
“We got one here, so I see him every day,” Lucas said.
Squint, indeed, and you can see the silhouette of Caleb Williams’ play-extending trickery – albeit at a slightly lower level of football – in San Jose State senior dual-threat quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. Elusive and nimble in the pocket, emboldened not with a true rocket of a right arm but with quick feet and a playmaker’s poise.
If you’re surprised in this day and age of college football by a scrambling quarterback, as USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said Tuesday, shame on you. But athletes such as Cordeiro – a respected Spartans leader who threw for 23 touchdowns last year and ran for nine more – have a way of shredding the best-laid defensive plans, extending plays and thinning out a defense until it snaps.
“You’re not rushing as many as you’d like to rush or you’re not putting as many guys in coverage, so it gives you major fits,” Grinch said, when asked Tuesday about facing Cordeiro. “Always has, and always will.”
The college football world, in a game where the Trojans are favored by 30-plus points, knows what to expect for USC vs. San Jose State on Saturday: scorched earth, with Williams and his array of targets burning and stampeding the villages of the Spartans’ defensive front and secondary.
But Cordeiro represents a significant test Saturday for a new-look Trojans defensive line that caved late last season, a test of their discipline and preparedness under Grinch, who carries a world of pressure on his shoulders. With imports Lucas from Texas A&M, Bear Alexander from Georgia, Jack Sullivan from Purdue, Kyon Barrs from Arizona and Jamil Muhammad from Georgia State’s, as many as three of USC’s starting slots on the line will likely be occupied by transfers.
If they struggle with chasing Cordeiro, if a containment scheme falls flat and the San Jose State quarterback dances and darts his way to a few touchdowns, how on earth can they be expected to keep Oregon’s Bo Nix or Utah’s Cam Rising in check when USC’s fighting for a Pac-12 title?
“At the end of the day, that’s what entails if you’re ready – if you can’t produce in Game 1,” Muhammad said Tuesday, “how do you expect to produce in Game 14, 15?”
When San Jose State has the ball
In addition to the Trojans’ defensive line’s need to keep Cordeiro from extending plays, they’ll also have their hands full with 5-foot-7 jitterbug back Kairee Robinson, who ran for 10 touchdowns last year.
But if USC’s defensive front can’t put pressure on the San Jose State line, an equal importance will fall on the Trojans’ secondary. Cordeiro isn’t exceptionally accurate, but isn’t shy about uncorking long balls in one-on-one coverage, and Spartans redshirt junior Justin Lockhart can stretch a secondary. So Saturday will be a major test for a pair of younger faces in redshirt sophomore Ceyair Wright, who was tabbed as one of USC’s most-improved players during fall camp, and sophomore Domani Jackson, who struggled with injury last year.
“We tried to force-feed him a little bit when we could a year ago, and probably wasn’t completely fair to him, to be honest … now, could not be higher on Domani,” Grinch said Tuesday.
When USC has the ball
Here’s a fun question: Who’ll lead the Trojans in receiving yards Saturday?
It’s quite possibly impossible to pinpoint, as USC has no less than five candidates – returners Mario Williams, Kyron Hudson, Tahj Washington and Brenden Rice, plus Arizona transfer Dorian Singer – who could reasonably wind up as Williams’ favorite target against the Spartans. Expect more of the share-the-wealth plan from 2022, overall, with a strong potential for a late-game, garbage-time highlight from freshmen Zachariah Branch and Duce Robinson.
It’s worth noting, too, at running back how returner Austin Jones and South Carolina transfer MarShawn Lloyd are deployed Saturday, and if freshman Quinten Joyner will get touches.
SAN JOSE STATE AT No. 6 USC
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Network/790 KABC
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