Freshman quarterback JT Daniels is currently on concussion protocol, and his ability to play in Saturday’s game remains questionable. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)Following a disheartening road loss to Utah riddled with player injuries, the football team prepares to take on Arizona State Saturday with some uncertainty.Head coach Clay Helton praised the Sun Devils’ talent, and is not overlooking their 3-4 start.“Don’t be fooled by the record,” Helton said. “They [were] impressive when they went up to Washington, … at Colorado and at Stanford.”With freshman starting quarterback JT Daniels in concussion protocol and sophomore backup quarterback Matt Fink out with three fractured ribs, redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Sears continued to receive first string reps. The team is looking to simplify the game plan on offense given Sears’ limited preparation time by emphasizing his capacity to create dynamic plays with his running ability and short throws to slowly move the ball down the field. Quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis provided his assessment on Sears from fall training camp to Tuesday.“He’s really athletic — that’s a good thing,” Ellis said. “We’ll have to move him around a little bit. He’s got a really strong arm. He had a great fall camp. It wasn’t necessarily his fault that he was named the third string guy. We just happened to have some good quarterbacks on our roster.”Ellis believes Sears is up to the challenge mentally. “What I like about him is he’s prepared everyday like he is going to get an opportunity to play,” Ellis said. “He’s a smart kid, he’s been engaged the whole time, and we’ll see where we are at with the plan, what he knows, what he likes and hopefully go out there and play Saturday.”Ellis also didn’t rule out a Daniels return.“If [Daniels] gets to play, then he’ll get to play,” Ellis said. “And if not, then we’ll have to move on without him. [Daniels is] a football junkie, so he’s still studying like he’s gonna be the starter, and he still may. We’ll see where he’s at.”Given USC’s record with injuries lately, the coaching staff isn’t putting all their stock on one player. They are also preparing walk-ons redshirt sophomore Holden Thomas and junior Brandon Perdue.Daniels, who completed 6-of-16 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions on Saturday, has had an up-and-down season, but his burgeoning connection with junior wide receiver Michael Pittman and longtime chemistry with freshman wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown has helped steady an otherwise shaky offense. The team will have to adjust to Sears’ mobile playstyle and restricted play-calling options.For now, the team is sticking to its next-man-up approach and is ready to rally behind whoever is under center.“He’s got the talent,” Ellis said. “I got no doubt in my mind that we can win a football game with Sears, and that’s what we plan to do on Saturday.”Sears downplayed any nervousness heading into Saturday’s game.“Lot of preparation, lot of the time in the film room,” Sears said. “Just preparing like I always prepare, whether it’s week one, two or this past week.”Sears also said that situations like these prove the importance of always being prepared.“Coach preaches every week to prepare like you’re the starter,” Sears said. “If you’re not getting the physical reps, you’ve got to get the mental reps. Obviously it’s hard [not playing] as a competitor, but at the same time, watching [Fink] and [Daniels] go along the process, string them along, helping them out anyway I can and prepared as if I have to go in when my name is called.”Injury updateSenior linebacker Cameron Smith was held out of practice with a hamstring strain. Daniels remains in concussion protocol but is progressing well, according to Helton. Senior running back Aca’Cedric Ware was limited with a sore shoulder but practiced. Senior cornerback Jonathan Lockett is still recovering from a hip injury, and freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin is limited with a shoulder injury.
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