Welcome to the final edition of our series with Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth. Ask The Expert features questions from TrojanSports.com staff and subscribers.
Adam Maya: What is your opinion on the attractiveness of being an assistant coach at USC? Where you would rank the Trojans among other Pac-12 programs and national powers as far as its attractiveness? Does USC have a good reputation in terms of those jobs as an assistant coach?
Yogi Roth: “I think it’s a huge job for everybody who puts up their job board or reads footballscoop.com in the profession. You’d love to co-coach at USC just because of location, pedigree, community, the launching pad USC can provide, recruiting prowess so even if you don’t do well, you’ve been in the homes of all the top guys in the country so you’re going to probably be more attractive to another staff on the West Coast or even nationally. When you compare it to other schools, regarding being a true launching pad for assistant coaches or coordinators to get head jobs, I think it’s still TBD. When we were at 'SC I can remember sitting in a meeting with Pete and (Carroll) and I could see him right in the front of the meeting right now being like guys, this is a launching pad for assistant coaches. And we saw. Nick Holt, Ed O (Orgeron), Lane (Kiffin), Sark (Steve Sarkisian), with everyone, Tim Davis. It was a launching pad. Myself, we all got better jobs from that but because we were a dynasty. I think it’s hard to compare to even then or some other dynasty. But to me, the head coaching community, to me, it’s all over the place. Brent Venables has been one of the top D-coordinators in the country but hasn’t launched out. I don’t know if he’s wanted to or he hasn’t. You can say the same about other coaches.
"At Ohio State, they’ve launched out of there the last couple of years with (Tom) Herman and this year their D-coordinator had the opportunity to and then obviously a lot of the drama occurred. But I still think it’s a top 5 job as an assistant in the country. Because your guys are going to be good and you’re going to be able to put on your resume, Doak Walker winner or finalist, Heisman finalist, Outland Trophy finalist, Campbell finalist, blah, blah, blah, every finalist in the history of awards. It’s TBD but it should happen. To me, Tee Martin is a head coach. I was shocked that hasn’t happened necessarily. But Tyson (Helton) launched out to a huge place to be an OC. So I think that will continue to happen. But guys turn down jobs and we never hear about it either. That happens so often, like Tee or other coaches. I’m sure Keary Colbert has been offered tons of jobs, I’m sure lots of guys have, like Ivan Lewis. People are going after those guys all the time. So we just don’t read about all of them because they’re so happy where they are.”
Maya: Do you have any feeling on who will be USC’s quarterback’s coach or their 10th assistant?
Roth: “No. I think it’s hard because we’re not in the meetings, regarding the tenth assistant. I hope it comes from internal in a lot of places because there’s so many guys that work so hard. I think the idea and notion that it needs to be a huge name to be the quarterback’s coach is inaccurate. Bryan Ellis is as qualified for the job. OK, he doesn’t the resume that maybe guys that played the position have, or the coach across town at UCLA, when they make their hire at the quarterbacks coach spot, but it doesn’t matter, the guy is a really good football coach. Clancy Pendergast didn’t play the game in college. So I don’t know, I think it’s going to be really interesting. When you look at Jan.-Dec. 20, that three-week span will be a historic time in college football. Early signing period, classes that were deep, classes that were small, kids that have signed that supposedly haven’t even announced yet. And then you add in 130 coaches are going to get hired. That’s never happened before, so I think it’s awesome for the profession. I have a guy on my podcast coming on, an o-line coach who’s just taken the long road. And it’s a really cool conversation about how hard it is to make it in the coaching profession. And now, here it is, it’s the first time ever there’s 132 jobs. Is it an o-line coach, is it a recruiting guy that can go on the road every weekend, is it a play caller, is it position coaches, is it a special teams coordinator, is it an academic person? I’ve heard across the board so I don’t know where they’ll go.”
Maya: Do you believe USC needs to bring in another heavyweight coach or potential successor for a coordinator?
Roth: “I don’t know the scenario, I don’t know if any of us do. Clancy Pendergast, how long do you see yourself here? Do you want to be a head coach, do you want to go back to the NFL? If so, who’s our next DC and who are we trying to get to do that? Then I think it’s time to bring in an Alex Grinch type, or a, there’s a guy named John Glenn who’s an assistant linebacker coach for the Seahawks right now, who I’ve known forever and Pete thinks he could be a DC in major college football right now. So bring him in and teach him the stuff. I think it’s literally where guys are going. Do you feel like, okay, we’re lucky to get Tee to come back for another year, that he didn’t take a lesser, non-Power-5 job. Who’s going to be that next play caller because we lost Tyson? So I think every school has different dynamics they have to evaluate. And I don’t know what Clay’s philosophy is. I don’t know his exact philosophy but I would imagine it’s, I want guys who are trained under our system so it’s easier for players and they’re speaking the same language. Is it a current coach on the staff that’s coaching, whether it’s D-line, linebackers or the back end or is it somebody they think, I don’t know if they’re that right guy yet let’s bring in a person that we can groom. I think there’s so many different things that each program evaluates differently.”
Maya: Are you ready to get back into coaching? One of our readers points out that USC needs a quarterbacks coach.
Roth: “I love coaching, some great times in my life. But I think I am a coach now. That’s what I love about my job now. On my call sheet, when I call a game for the Pac-12 Network, and I’ve had this for about nine years now, it says celebrate the game and coach the viewer. And I think that’s my job. So I left ‘SC coaching five quarterbacks and I get to coach a million-five now, or however many are watching our games. And I take that seriously. I really think that when I’m calling a game or doing a feature or a piece on somebody. It’s getting to the masses more and you’re having more of an impact. Like the podcast with Sam (Darnold), the amount of downloads that we’re having and watching it and impacting people individually is something that’s close to me. So I don’t know, I talk to coaches every offseason, I look at a couple jobs.”
Maya: We haven’t really discussed the Season of Sam podcast. Why did you guys do it and what did you take away from it?
Roth: “We did the show because Tim Tessalone’s brilliant at trying to find creative ways to get the stories out of his student athletes. Sam was on every cover and it was kind of like, it seemed like among writers, a competition of who could tell the more unique Sam Darnold story. So it started off as, well let’s do a podcast every week with you and Sam. So I said, alright let’s talk about it, let’s brainstorm. And the whole team at SC and myself brainstormed and presented them the entire of what if we created a master class for Sam. Everyone brainstormed it and was on board with the idea of, instead of me interviewing Sam every week about the game, of course that’s going to be the A-block of the show and what a lot of fans are going to want to hear about. But by the time the podcast airs, it’s going to be midweek, you’re kind of over the game unless something historic happens and you’re on to the next one but you’re not really there just yet, you’re kind of in the middle. My thing is always, we often have these debates of are they students or are they athletes, what’s a student-athlete? I would be talking to Sam and he would be telling me about the papers he’s got to write and the classes he has to take and wants to take and that he’s excited about. Why don’t we create a master class for this guy and give people a glimpse of what it really looks and sounds like to a student-athlete and what if they actually got to sit in on a class with him and look at his notes, per se, and listen to his questions and how his mind works?
"I thought, this is way better than a feature or me just asking questions about third down defense or how the locker room was after a win or loss. That’s boring to me after a week or two. This is interesting. Then I thought, the networks that we have collectively with SC and myself, I think we can bring some really cool people to the table that will benefit Sam. And knowing Sam since high school, I truly think he is a seeker. I think when I define quarterbacks in my 15-20 years of being in major college football, the greatest players are seekers. Quarterbacks are seekers of how do I understand this defense, what kind of offense do I use to attack it, how can I be better as an individual on and off the field, how can I be a better man in my community, I can I be a better son, boyfriend, husband, eventual father. I saw him at Elite 11 and I saw it with Sam and I said, let’s give him the tools. Let’s bring in these rock stars like Jeff Fellenzer, he has one of the greatest classes in the history of college academia. I was like, why don’t we just create something like that? And then it just started going.
"Alright (Trent) Dilfer, got him, that’s easy, Pete (Carroll), got him, Colin Cowherd, Will Farrell, you know him, I’ve met him, let’s see if he’ll do it. And away we went. And then a couple came out of the box, like Sam Hunt. Sam’s like, yeah I know Sam. he was a quarterback, Tyson coached him. Perfect. Sam and I met with Katie Ryan, the producer in the summer and we said, what are you interested in? And if this isn’t the number two thing that you get psyched up about outside of football, then we’re not doing it. I don’t need to come here every week, we don’t need to put the time in, Rich Rodriguez doesn’t need to edit it, Jordan Moore doesn’t need to promote, Tim doesn’t need to produce it, compliance doesn’t need to review it. If you love something like this, let’s go for it. He goes, dude I’m so in. He would send me emails, notes, people he wanted to hear from, people who reached out to and we couldn’t get them on. There were guests that we turned down that you would be like, that’s a hall of famer. We couldn’t fit it in because Sam’s like, I have to prepare for a class. So it was really this beautiful balance of a glimpse of being a student athlete. I think the best part is if you binge listen to it, you get to the final episode and there’s some real growth. And he took lessons from Luc Robitaille and he took lessons from Jordan Palmer and Matt Leinart and Mike Gervais applied them to his team and his game.”
Maya: How has your opinion of Sam Darnold changed or evolved through that experience?
Roth: “I’ve always held Sam in a really high regard. I don’t think my opinion of him as a man altered because I’ve always had great respect for him. What I noticed because I’m older now and an adult compared to him as a young man, still evolving. He really listed and he really matured in his voice. Whenever I talk to student-athletes, I always talk to them about mastering their voice and getting to know it. The simple question is, how many of you when you listen to yourself in an interview feel awkward when you hear your voice. 99-percent of them raise their hands. Okay cool, so we have too get grounded in our voice. When I asked USC’s team this summer, I did a talk with Gary Vaynerchuk and I said how many of you think you’re storytellers? Four hands were raised out of a hundred kids. I said, how many have snap chat? A hundred hands were raised. I said everyone of you are storytellers.
"That was really the beginning of Sam and I’s discussion -- you’re a storyteller, you have to learn your voice and master it. You’ve only answered questions and now you have to command and guide this interview. Every Tuesday night, we would send him an email with a word document that was basically like, subject, who this person is, here’s some thoughts and here’s some notes about how you can improve as the interviewer. And what I loved is talking to talking to people like yourself and I’d check in probably two or three times in the season, like hey is a better interviewee and everyone would say yes. And that too me was really cool and that was an area I got really excited about, I was like it’s working, he’s becoming a better listener, he’s becoming a smoother communicator, he’s understanding the idea and concept of bridging from an answer to a question to an answer.”
Maya: I felt like he took ownership of it, as if he’d be doing it long term.
Roth: “That’s what quarterbacks do. If it was just something fun to do, I would have been out after Episode 3 because if he wasn’t growing, he was doing the interviews. My line of questioning for every guest would have been much different than his line of questioning. That was really fun. To listen to him talk to Justin Turner about pitch count, to listen to him talk to Trent about basketball, to hearing him talk to Pete Carroll about the transition in the locker room. They were all questions I wouldn’t have asked. To me, he took it real serious and I loved it because in a podcast, I’m staring at his notes and I’m watching him go through his questions and learning how to bridge from an answer to take it somewhere else and then bring it back to where he really wants to go while still flowing naturally with the conversation and still having command of it. So he took it dead serious. And I loved it. There was a point midseason where his mom came up to me during a practice and said he loves it because it allows him to learn. And I think often times, we think that college players, and to me it was the greatest reminder every week because he didn’t have pads on when I saw him and he didn’t have a helmet on. I saw a young man who’s in his third year of college. I didn’t see the top-five draft pick who could be Mr. Everything. That was a great reminder for me as a college football analyst like, all these kids on these campuses are this way. We don’t have to be as critical as we want to be and they’re trying to have all the answers and they don’t. Not all of them get 13 episodes where they get to talk to 12 amazing people like Sam did. I hope every school does it.”
Maya: As of right now, what’s your feeling on him and the NFL draft?
Roth: "Do I think he’s ready for the NFL? Physically, yes. Mentally, getting there. I think Sam falls into the third of three categories of guys preparing for the NFL. Category 1: Deshaun Watson — I’m going to come for three years, I’m going to get my degree in three years, and I’m going t o the league after Year 3, if things all work out. A real plan. Every offseason, I’m going to take my time and interview these agents, I’m going to be organized and then I’m going to go do my thing, He had a plan. Second option is guys that had a ton of hype that don’t have an organized plan and as the season goes on, they’re competing against a (preseason) draft projection. The No. 1 viewed article every year is the post-draft draft projections for the next year. The minute that comes out, Quarterback X gets put at the very top. And they didn’t do what Deshaun did, and they kind of came out of nowhere. A lot of times their season is spent competing against their projection, and they usually do not play well. They’re competing against that stigma all season and they’re interviewing (agents) all season. They’re competing against themselves, they’re competing against an expectation. And those players are usually lost as the season goes on because Monday and Tuesday they’re talking to agents, or somebody’s in their ear and they don’t have a clear plan.
"And then there’s three, which is Sam. Sam was the guy who shut it all off, hasn’t talked to any gents, didn’t interview anybody as a marketing guy, didn’t do anything, because he shut it down and said, I’m going to go through the season. And now he’s in the process of that world after this ballgame. And I say that because I’ve sensed over the last month a different maturity of Sam. I think he finally opened his eyes to the realities of what may happen for him. He’s seeing it. I think when you talk to him, he’s looking at he game a little differently, not as though he’s afraid to get hurt or afraid to play the way he’s played. He’s just, OK, cool, I’ve opened up my ears a little bit because I’ve had a minute to breathe, because we finally had an off week. OK, where am I potentially slotted in this draft? What does that really look like? And I think he’s just dipped his toe in it, as he talked about in our podcast. When this game ends, he’s going to jump into that pool and figure it out. I wouldn’t be shocked if he came back but I think that as he gains intel he’ll realize he’s ready to go."
Maya: I agree. OK, let’s talk about the game. What matchup do you think would concern Ohio State’s defense when it looks at USC’s offense?
Roth: "I think they have to be concerned outside. I think it’s big advantage USC receivers in the secondary of Ohio State. These secondaries are similar to a certain degree. They can get exposed. I think that’s the biggest one. They’re not going to bring a ton of heat because they can get to the quarterback, with Nick Bosa and company coming off the edge, a physical y group of linebackers. I think they’ve got to be worried in the back end. If USC can run the ball with Ronald Jones, if he can run the ball for 120, which is an impressive game. Bu if he’s just effective—25 carries, 120 yards—if he does that, then it’s a huge advantage USC. If all of a sudden Nick Bosa and company can pin their ears back and forcing Sam into third-and-7, third-and-8, he’ll make those couple magical plays. But he cant make 20. So I think for them (Ohio State), they have to play outside and slow the run game down, which I imagine they would feel confident about going in. Can they hold up outside? Are they playing bracket coverage and taking away Deontay Burnett? What is Tyler Vaughns going to do? How is Pittman going to be? Steven Mitchell. Can those guys make plays? I think they can. That’s why I think we have a classic matchup. I think plays are going to be made on both sides of the ball."
Maya: What are your thoughts on USC’s OL/DL vs. tOSU, which boasts arguably the best lines USC has faced since Alabama?
Roth: "USC’s O-line, I went back and watched parts of the Stanford game, in the title game, I thought they played really well. They played physical, they played sound, they gave up one sack, they didn’t give up a lot of TFLs. Where Tee’s good and where Clay is really good and probably not given enough credit is getting the ball out. The stat I have on Sam, he’s as good at getting the ball out as anybody in the country When he gets it out in 2.5 seconds or less, he’s completing over 70 percent of his passes. So if you’re not going to bring extra guys, OK he should be able to be OK and get it out. In the RPO game, where he is elite, and if Daniel (Imatorbhebhe) is healthy, with I assume he is, it’s a huge advantage for them. I think Sam’s going to be able to throw the ball. If they can spread them out and say, OK, bring your four — Chuma (Edoga) can protect, Toa (Lobendahn) can protect, their back can chip when they need to — then I’ll think they’ll have opportunities to make plays. But they’re going to get home, they’re going to get a couple of them, they’re just too talented not to."
Maya: And how do you feel about USC’s defensive front against tOSU’s O-line?
Roth: "I’m intrigued by it. If you think about it, this is a team that doesn’t have Porter Gustin, doesn’t have Marlon Tuipulotu, two mainstays of what we thought would be their defensive front, and bent at times, Notre Dame, but ha kind of come back strong. Rasheem Green is an NFL prospect, Uchenna Nwosu is one of the top three defensive players in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the country. And Jordan (Iosefa) is super athletic, and then even John Houston, he can play that weakside, he can run, so you don’t have to sub him out. He can run with tight ends, he can run with slot receivers at times, so I’m excited. The O-line of Ohio State, their left tackle is awesome, Jamarco Jones, he’s a really big time left tackle, but I think they’ll be able to get after him. I’m excited to watch the interior, Uchenna is going to be good, he’s going to do his thing, but I think the interior, because of all the zone read quarterback design runs, can they get after the center, Billy Price? I think he’s pretty good. Brandon Bowen, he’s OK at the guard position. That to me is where I’m going to be watching a lot, and that’s Cam Smith playing inside. It’s a lot of those guys inside the box. That’s Chris Hawkins playing eight yards from the line of scrimmage, which he does on 77 percent of the snaps, it’s a dramatic number. The middle of that defense, can they truly bottle up the run game? And if they can, they’ll be fine, and then what they’re probably going to go to next is that secondary and the RPO game, which is Ajene (Harris), Chris Hawkins, Marvell Tell, how do they do?"
Maya: Among USC opponents, tOSU’s offense has been likened to Texas and Notre Dame and even Penn State from last year. Who do they look like to you?
Roth: "Out of all the teams USC has played this year, they remind me probably the most of Texas and Arizona. Their RPO game is going to remind you of Arizona State because J.T. is masterful, like Manny Wilkins is. Their quarterback run scheme would remind you of Arizona, because they’ll run J.T. like that. And then their pass game, which isn’t a surprise, would remind you of Texas. The challenge with all three of those, with the exception od Manny, they were very immature in the state of that offense mastery. Jt. Is a gamer. I remember talking to Tom Herman when he got him, and he goes, I think this guy is going to be the dude. First three-time captain in the history fo that team. He’s been though a lot in his career, highs, lows, the stage won’t be too big for hm. I think the ball in this game is going to go through the hands of both of these quarterbacks."
Maya: Outside of Darnold, who has to come up big for USC to win this game?
Roth: "I think RoJo has to have a big game. I think they have to run the football. Even if it’s RoJo, Stephen Carr, a combination, Ced Ware, if they run for over 200 yards, ‘SC is going to win the ball game, because they’re in control of the clock. I think on the offensive side as well, I think this is a classic star game. Deontay Burnett, they go to him when it matters. He’s that guy that just continues to be clutch when people forget about talking about him. The guy is as clutch of a guy as there is on the West Coast. You just look at his numbers and when they throw to him in clutch scenarios and when he makes plays. And I think Ajene Harris has a chance to be the defensive MVP."
Maya: Why’s that?
Roth: "Because in the zone read game, he plays the apex. If you draw a line from the tackle, it’s basically 7x7. He’s going to be in that nickel spot and he’s going to be playing all the zone read stuff, quarterback read, bubble screen read, run game, trick plays, I really think he’s going to have to have an incredibly consistent game. A miss by him is a big play for Ohio State. How does he tackle in space? They got real backs at Ohio State, that have been playing really well as of late. So I think that’s going to be a sneaky guy to watch that probably won’t get a ton of pub. He’s not Cam Smith, he’s not Uchenna, he’s not Chris. But against this type of system, that position is one to watch. That’s where he’s been, as I’ve watched him throughout the year, and he does a good job. He doesn’t miss much, his acumen’s really high."
Maya: What’s your prediction?
Roth: "These are the games that are fun because you have here weeks. You’ve had at least two game weeks to prepare, which is basically how these two teams prepared for this ball game. So you shouldn’t be surprised by a lot. Now it’s about execution. So the biggest thing for me would be how does ‘SC handle the stage? I wasn’t as angry as maybe some of the fans about ‘SC not being invited to the playoff. They were inconsistent. I felt, and I agreed with fans, I think ‘SC was extremely disrespected in where they were slotted in the rankings, to be behind a Wisconsin team that lost in the (conference) title game, behind Ohio State, when you can compare wins and losses. But the inconsistencies of the, you can go (through) their schedule, not very often did we see four quarters come together. So I’m really excited to see how they start and then if they don’t start well, how do they deal with a consistent running attack defensively, and just being physical for an entire game? How do they deal with the emotions of the game? Or does this become the game of individuals. I make a big play and I dance for the camera. I make a big play and I shake my hand at the receiver.
"I hope we don’t see that because in this environment, in this game, against this team that’s going to come for four quarters, you can’t do it. I’m pumped to see the poise of this team. They have literally a template of what not to do, (from) a year ago to start the season. They’ve had big moments this year where they didn’t handle the environment well, like Notre Dame. Those are the lessons that I’m looking forward to seeing culminate, and I think they will. My prediction in this one, I think Ohio State, their offense is really underrated, I think they’ll be able to move the ball. But I go back to championship games and Sam is just different. I think he’s different than quarterbacks we’ve seen. He’s similar to Baker Mayfield in terms of being a gamer, and he’s three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. And I say the same thing about Deontay Burnett and I think the same thing about Ronald Jones. So I think we got a classic one. If I had to pick it, because I think both teams are going to run the ball, I go 38-35, Trojans, maybe the walk-on kicker to win it."
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