LOS ANGELES — Cameron Smith, reviewing USC’s season-opening win over Western Michigan after a practice this week, was left to shrug.
“That was one of the more weird games I’ve played in,” said Smith, the Trojans’ junior linebacker and defensive captain.
Smith watched the first half from the locker room at the Coliseum, while serving a suspension for a targeting penalty from the Rose Bowl.
Over the first two quarters, he watched the Broncos run for 161 yards.
When Smith entered for the Trojans to start the third quarter, their run defense improved. Western Michigan gained 101 yards in the second half.
“There’s so much experience he brings to the table and confidence,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “He’s kind of like Sam (Darnold) on the other side of the ball. He’s kind of that quarterback of the defense, that gets everyone lined up, that’s making plays.”
USC will have Smith from the start on Saturday in its Pac-12 opener against Stanford.
As the “Mike” linebacker, Smith holds several responsibilities. Prior to the snap, Helton said Smith is asked to identify the offensive formation and direct defensive players accordingly. Other times, Smith is given two defensive play calls. Then, he picks one based on how the offense lines up.
“It’s like having to call an audible,” Helton said.
In the first half against Western Michigan, those duties were split.
Safety Chris Hawkins took some of the play calling responsibilities, along with linebacker Jordan Iosefa who started in place of Smith.
“He answered the bell,” Smith said, “but it obviously would have helped if I was out there with a little more experience.”
Saturday’s matchup between USC and Stanford will mark the fourth consecutive season when the teams have met during the second or third week of the season.
Helton said Thursday that Pac-12 rules were established that require the teams to meet during the first three weeks of the season because of both schools’ annual nonconference rivalry games with Notre Dame that take place later in the season in October and November. As a result, they need to start their conference schedules earlier.
Asked if it was more difficult to play the Cardinal early in the season, Helton said he did not think so, pointing to their loss in the Pac-12 championship game in December in 2015. Stanford is tough no matter the month, he reasoned.
“They looked like the same Stanford team to me,” he said.
USC is 1-2…