LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was an impressive debut for Southern California defensive end Drake Jackson, who had three tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss, and 1/2 sack against Fresno State.
Had the freshman been able to finish off numerous other plays in the backfield where he seemingly had the quarterback in his grasp, it could have been so much more.
Jackson is determined to show that ability to close out plays against the depleted offensive line of No. 23 Stanford on Saturday.
"Now that I know that I can get there and I can see how these O-linemen block, I know I can get there," Jackson said Wednesday night. "Now it's just a finishing factor. Now the sacks will come to me again."
Jackson has shown a knack for making an immediate impact for the Trojans. The 6-foot-4, 275 pound Jackson enrolled in college in December to participate in spring practice and quickly made himself a nuisance for the offense as they learned their new spread offense, which would lead to him becoming the first freshman to start in a season opener for USC since Everson Griffen in 2007.
Redshirt senior Christian Rector was surprised at how well-rounded the Corona, California, product was on arrival, not knowing Jackson had spent years working with his father developing a variety of moves and techniques to complement his athleticism.
"Just coming in as ready as he is, just being a dynamic player," Rector said. "A lot of times guys come in from high school being really good, but only being good at one thing. He seems to do everything well."
And it didn't take long for the Bulldogs to realize how disruptive Jackson can be. Left unblocked on an outside run off right tackle in the second quarter, Jackson quickly pulled the back down for a loss of 4 yards and his first negative play in college.
Jackson nearly followed it up with his first sack on the next play, only for quarterback Jorge Reyna to slip from his grasp and scramble for a short gain. It was the first of several near-misses for Jackson, and one of many for the USC defense, which allowed Reyna to rush for 88 of Fresno State's 206 yards on the ground.
New defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a was not upset with the missed tackles, which he attributed to the normal acclimation process for the defense in the first game of the season. Kauha'aha'a, who held the same position at Boise State in 2018, said Jackson's misses were the result of over-exuberance and he was largely pleased with his performance.
"He's just got to finish," Kauha'aha'a said. "You could see it on film, he gets so anxious and he's trying so hard that (the quarterback) slips by, you know what I mean?"
Rector, who started opposite Jackson at defensive end, expects the freshman to use the good and bad from his first game as a stepping stone going into his first Pac-12 Conference game.
"It's exciting," Rector said. "It makes me very optimistic for where we want to be in the future, but taking it one day at a time. He had a good game. Let's build on that. We can be so much better than that."
Jackson should have chances to show that improvement against the Cardinal, who will be without left tackle Walker Little after the preseason All-American sustained a leg injury against Northwestern. Freshman Walter Rouse will make his first career start in place of Little, who is expected to miss several weeks.
Kauha'aha'a has been cautioning his players against expecting anything less than Stanford's best, pointing to the consistently great line play the program has produced under coach David Shaw.
"People can say what they want about Stanford's offensive line being fresh, new," Kauha'aha'a said. "That's David Shaw. Coach Shaw is a master offensive mind, so whatever situation they are in, he'll have them ready."
The warning seems to have taken hold with Jackson, who is ready to turn his opportunities into production.
"Well, it's a 'never back down' mentality, so whatever they got I'll take," Jackson said.
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