By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think.
Days of our lives: Now inside 20 days until that little gridiron tea party with No. 1 Alabama in Arlington, Texas, you could say the USC Trojans second scrimmage on a hot Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles was more unofficial than official with no game officials present to regulate the performers. There was, however, coaching staff regulation and inspection for starting positions by changing up personal to keep things fresh and the competition legitimate.
Days of our lives – Part 2: Although running backs Justin Davis, Ronald Jones ll, Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware all had their moments, the defense seemed to solidly have the better day on Saturday. Of note, it appears that placekicker Matt Boermeester is positioning himself to win field goals and extra point responsibilities, but there is still plenty of competition left in the punting derby between Chris Tilbey and Reid Budrovich. While Tilbey has the leg, Clay Helton likes the consistency of Budrovich and his punt placement.
Days of our lives – Part 3: No matter how glowing or restrained each week’s Trojans team evaluation gets, the reality is that you can only guesstimate how good the Trojans are when they practice only against themselves. Few will argue that Alabama may be the most talented team in America, but what won’t be known until kickoff is how much heart, desire, and confidence resides inside each USC football player. As illustrated on Saturday, there is plenty of effort. How much “Fight On” is inside each Trojan when they line up against the Crimson Tide is yet to be determined, as well as any physicality disparity.
Days of our lives – Part 4: If you are wondering the perspective here after Saturday’s proceedings, it appears clear that depending on which quarterback is taking snaps, the offense takes on the personality of either Max Browne or Sam Darnold. Both quarterbacks continue to keep pace with each other. Defensively, the Trojans continued to flow quickly as a team to the ball, but what remains to be seen is whether a power offensive team attacking the Trojans defensive front can be neutralized and penetrated.
A real hang-up: If you are wondering how much team discipline Clay Helton is monitoring, a freshman was recently caught during a team meeting with his cell phone out. As punishment, after Saturday’s hot and fatiguing practice the entire team ran the full length of the practice fields – from one fence to the other, which is about 400 yard round trip excursion. Helton said later he was actually waiting for the cell phone rule to be broken, and told his team these are the little things that can cost the team a game.
True confessions: Honest Clay Helton said this week that his Trojans have already worked on an Alabama game plan as far back as May and June, and on Friday smiled and revealed, “Would I’d be lying to you that at midnight I am not watching Alabama film? Yes, I would be lying. I have a tendency to take a peek late at night and try to get one or two more trinkets to be able help our kids.”
True confessions – Part 2: Asked what impresses him about Alabama, Clay Helton said, “What really speaks volumes to me and jumps off the tape to me is how well they’re coached. When you’re taking about (head coach) Nick Saban on defense, it doesn’t matter who the coordinator is because his defense has been the same and has done some great things with it. He is not just one of the better head coaches of our time, but one of the best defensive coaches. Coach Kiff (former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin) is one of the more brilliant offensive coaches out there.”
Man of Steel: This past week, All-Pac-12 junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster incurred a dislocated pinky. Couple that injury with the already sensitive toe issue and JuJu is once again being hounded by injury. Not that a pinky won’t heal or a potential turf toe can’t be monitored, but the former Long Beach Poly superstar last season suffered from a broken hand and had to have a plate inserted and eight screws. To his credit, Superman continued to play with a soft cast. As far his current medical issues, I guess compared to a 2015 broken hand, it’s just small bumps in the road.
Enough Ced: With standout running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones ll even bigger and stronger than a year ago, you’d think that sophomore Aca-Cedric Ware might become a blip on the running back radar screen. Well, so far in training camp he’s been way more than a “blip,” and rushing between the tackles Ced runs much bigger and stronger than his listed 6-foot, 195-pound frame. Always keeping his legs churning and coupled with outstanding balance, the native DeSoto Texan (Cedar Hill High) will make his mark before his Trojans career is completed. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Trojans running back coach Tommie Robinson does such a masterful job of rotating his stable of backs.
The Breeze: Because of his speed and swiftness, the nickname for Trojans sophomore running back Ronald Jones ll is “Breeze.” Believe me, the “Breeze” looks like a much stronger wind than he was a season ago as a true freshman.
Mr. T: At this point in training camp, there is no question that graduate Utah transfer and fireplug defensive tackle Steve Tu’ikolovatu is a serious threat to start at nose guard against Alabama. Sure, there is still competition, but talk to some of the other Trojans offensive linemen about “Mr. T” and they’ll tell you he is a whole different type of physical tackle than they’re use to competing with in practice.
Old souls: Defensive tackle Steve Tu’ikolovatu is 25-year-old and married and JC D-lineman transfer Josh Fotu from Long Beach City College bring together two very mature football players into the mix. With Mr. T and Fotu, defensive line of coach Kenechi Udeze’s young group doesn’t look quite as kiddie corps. And nobody is more grateful with the current production and maturity of Tu’ikolovatu and Fotu than head coach Clay Helton.
From the press box…
Genealogy: Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold has enough athlete genes to be the envy of the team. One of his gene contributors is his late grandfather, Dick Hammer, who played basketball at USC (lettering in 1952 and was on the Trojans 1954 NCAA Final Four club) and was a member of the USA 1964 Olympic volleyball team.
Coming of age: If you’re looking for a surprise or a player that is really starting to come on, you might want to turn your attention to former Los Angeles Loyola High stud Christian Rector, the redshirt freshman defensive lineman who is making his presence felt.
Read all about it: The proposed renovated Coliseum press box will be named the Otis Booth Press Box in recognition of a $7.5 million gift from the Otis Booth Foundation. OK, so who wants to name the entire structure that will eradicate what appears to be 70 percent of the original Coliseum west side seating? Well, just fork out millions and you’ll live in posterity. Sorry, but the unofficial “Pat’s (Haden) Tower” has already been taken.
The honor: On Friday afternoon in Los Angeles, there was a memorial Mass for Trojans broadcasting legend Tom Kelly. One of the honored pallbearers was WeAreSC publisher Garry Paskwietz, who was privileged to work with TK late in the Golden Voice’s career. In his autobiography, Kelly wrote of his friendship and appreciation of Garry and his work with him on the televised Prep Game of the Week.
The honor Part 2: How good was Tom Kelly as a sportscaster? Even late in his career, he could make a routine prep game between two elite teams sound like a Rose Bowl broadcast. Yes, Kelly was that good and his professionalism to his craft wasn’t deterred by what level (high school, college, or pro) he was broadcasting.
Block party: When USC battles Alabama on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, the game will feature two of the nation’s best offensive tackles in Trojans senior Zach Banner and Alabama junior Cam Robinson. It figures that the AT&T Stadium press box will be full of NFL scouts evaluating both Banner and Robinson and don’t think the two players don’t know it.
Block party – Part 2: In taking a step back and in the eyes of NFL scouts, Zach Banner has the most to gain since the Alabama defensive front is considered by many the best in the country while the Trojans defensive front is an unproven commodity, which may not provide sufficient information to NFL scouts regarding Cam Robinson.
Ranking touchdown: Asked recently what type of touchdowns bring him the most satisfaction, Adoree’ Jackson replied, “A Pick-6 is tops followed by a punt return.” Interesting considering Adoree’ is also a situational all-the-way-in-one-play catch and run receiver.
The plug: USC athletic director Lynn Swann got in a good ESPN national plug for the Trojans arrangement with the Rams during Saturday’s national telecast. Swann mentioned on the air that the goal of the Trojans was to win a football national championship.
The post-game show…
Birthday candles: Those lucky Trojans celebrating birthdays on game day during the 2016 season include: WR Darreus Rogers (Sept. 3/Alabama in Arlington, TX) and DB Ykili Ross (Sept. 17/at Stanford). On a side birthday note, secondary coach Ronnie Bradford will celebrate a birthday on Oct. 1(ASU) in the Coliseum.
The candidate: Before the hiring of first-year head coach Clay Helton, the name of former Super Bowl championship coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was floated as a candidate. Gruden, who was in town to be the ESPN analyst on Saturday night’s Rams/Cowboy’s preseason game, attended Friday’s practice and afterward received high praise from head coach Clay Helton, who said that Gruden is “great friends” with Trojans defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Bookstore bargains: Upon entering The Bookstore on campus, there is a life size mannequin of Trojans All-Pac-12 receiving JuJu Smith-Schuster wearing his No. 9 home game uniform. Behind the unnamed mannequin are the two numbered jerseys that are being promoted in 2016. No surprise that JuJu’s No. 9 is front and center, but also included is CB Adoree’ Jackson’s No. 2 home jersey. And, yes, the jerseys have the “new” Nike additions to this season’s jerseys. Check them out and see if you can see those “new” additions to the jerseys.
Tradition change: One break from tradition in practice is that the offense is wearing the home cardinal jerseys and the defensive team is wearing the traditional white “road” jerseys. Not a big deal but noticeable to longtime observers. In the past, whenever the Trojans were the road team – which they are designated for their neutral site opener against Alabama – the offense has traditionally worn white practice attire and the defensive the cardinal fitting.
The road lottery: For season ticket holders, a special road game ticket lottery will take place for games at Stanford, Arizona, and UCLA. Road game tickets for Alabama, Utah, and Washington are currently unavailable. FYI, cost of a road game ticket to available road games is as follows: Stanford ($125), Arizona ($28), and UCLA ($110).
Back in The County: Former starting Trojans offensive lineman Lenny Vandermade, a former 2015 Trojans football program offensive administration assistant, is now offensive coordinator as part of the new Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic High coaching staff under first-year Eagles coach Rich Fisher, a former University of Nebraska assistant.
The last word: It probably came as somewhat of surprise when Trojans Class of 2017 quarterback recruit Jack Sears (San Clemente, Ca./San Clemente) committed to Duke University last week. The Trojans already know all about the pesky Blue Devils in recruiting because current sophomore tight end Tyler Petite was originally committed to Duke before switching over to the Trojans. Who says Duke is just a basketball school, so help me Mike Krzyzewksi.