While the USC passing game continued to sputter throughout much of the team’s clash with Utah State last weekend, the performance of tight end Xavier Grimble -- highlighted by arguably play of the day -- was one of the few bright spots.
Hauling in a 30-yard scoring strike over the middle from Cody Kessler, Grimble’s second-quarter touchdown would not only play a crucial part in the Trojans’ eventual 17-14 victory, but it also marked the first time that the 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior has found the end zone this season, and the 10th time in his career.
“Oh man, it was great,” said Grimble, who also made a nine-yard reception in the game. “I broke the huddle, walked up, saw their coverage and where their linebackers were placed ... had a good, clean release and I was able to get out fast. I knew that if [Kessler] saw me open, I was going to score a touchdown. I’m glad I was able to get in there.”
And Grimble -- who teams with Randall Telfer to give the USC offense one of the best tight end duos in college football -- is hoping Saturday’s touchdown is just the first of many more to come this season. A big target with solid all-around skills, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman product has worked hard to put himself in position to become a vital part of the passing offense, if so called upon, in 2013.
“As far as pass-catching goes, I’m always ready ... that’s how I like to be,” said Grimble, who has recorded eight receptions this season, and 52 in his career. “Every chance that I get to catch the ball, I’ve got to maximize. And I was put in a good position on Saturday, and I maximized that opportunity.”
But in order for that to happen on a consistent basis, a USC aerial attack which has struggled in three of the team’s first four contests this fall will have to come together and show vast improvement -- in a hurry. Plagued by a general lack of rhythm between Kessler and his receivers, inconsistent offensive line play and a number of dropped balls, the Trojans' offense currently ranks No. 108 nationally with an average of just 163.5 passing yards per game.
“I think it’s going to be a thing where we’ve just got to get better week-to-week,” Grimble said. “I think we’ve got a ton of practice experience, but we really need that game experience. Going back and watching film, we’re pretty much just a pass or play away from cracking some games open, gaining some momentum and getting things rolling. We’re still putting it together, but I think it’s going to come soon.”
Ideally, Grimble and the Trojans would like that upswing in production to begin this weekend when USC takes on Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. But that might be easier said than done. After all, the Sun Devils feature an aggressive defense that ranks No. 17 nationally against the pass (159 yards allowed per game) and is headlined by 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. And while Grimble is well aware of what the Trojans' offense is set to go up against, he’s also encouraged by what he has seen from the unit this week in practice. He’s excited for the challenge.
“Arizona State is always a talented team,” Grimble said. “You’ve always got to watch out for a few guys. They’ve got some big, strong guys up front, some talented guys in the secondary and they always seem to have a good linebacker corps. I think it’s going to be an exciting game for us to really take our preparation, and to be ready to go once the game starts.”
Whether the Trojans’ passing game gets on track in time for Saturday’s kickoff could determine if the team escapes the hot Arizona desert with a victory or a loss. And if it does, one thing you can expect to see is more big plays from Grimble, who eagerly awaits the opportunity.
“I’m always looking for the ball,” Grimble said. “I’m never going to stop looking and running hard, and when the ball comes my way I’m going to be ready to make the play.”