By Johnny Curren
After a strong showing on the first day of fall camp on Saturday, the Trojans came back out on Sunday and picked right up where they left off, taking part in a shorts-and-helmets practice session that was marked by plenty of highlight-reel plays, not to mention plenty of competition – a common theme so far.
“It’s easy to come out Day 1 and be fired up and excited, intense and competitive and all that, but the challenge is, can you do it as good or better the next day and the next day and the next day?” Sarkisian said. “I think it was pretty evident today that the guys came out again in a really competitive atmosphere. They were intense, and at times maybe a little too intense for not being in pads yet, and so we had to keep coaching them that way, but I was impressed with that.”
It was Justin Wilcox’s defensive group that stole the show for the second consecutive day. Freshman linebacker Osa Masina got things started with an athletic interception on a Ricky Town pass that was tipped at the line, and the No. 1 defensive unit finished the day off on a high note, fighting back from a 0-2 deficit during the final five-play challenge to stop the offense on three straight plays to win 3-2.
Having lost standout performers Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard from last year’s defensive group, Sarkisian singled out Antwaun Woods, Anthony Sarao, Su’a Cravens, Adoree’ Jackson and Kevon Seymour as some of the veterans who have stepped up as leaders, but what has really impressed the USC head coach most is the way that the entire group is playing as one fine-tuned unit.
“I don’t feel like guys on the defense are waiting for another guy to go make the play,” Sarkisian said. “I think they’re all understanding the accountability aspect of it – that it’s my job to do my job, and if a play comes my way, or if I have to go make that play through sheer effort, I’m going to go do that because that’s my job and that’s what my brothers are expecting me to do. I don’t know if we always played that way a year ago. I think we’re starting to develop that identity right now.”
Freshmen quarterbacks impress Sarkisian
While senior Heisman Trophy candidate Cody Kessler and backup Max Browne have been drawing most of the attention at the quarterback position so far, freshmen signal-callers Ricky Town and Sam Darnold have been gaining notice for their early play as well.
Darnold, in particular, had an extremely solid showing on Sunday, putting a live arm on display, while also doing some damage on the ground, breaking off two runs for first-down gains on broken passing plays.
“For a guy who’s only had two college practices, I don’t know if we could ask for a whole lot more of what he’s kind of been doing,” Sarkisian said of the San Clemente (Calif.) product. “He’s shown good arm strength, he’s shown really good athleticism and he seems to have a really good demeanor about himself. He doesn’t get rattled when he’s back there.”
Town, who arrived at USC this past January as an early-enrollee from Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, has impressed Sarkisian with the improvement that he’s shown since spring ball.
“He’s playing much better than he did in the spring,” Sarkisian said. “There’s areas where we challenged him to improve upon the summer. I think his arm strength looks much better. His delivery is better. Like every young quarterback, they’ve got plenty of stuff to work on, but he has definitely improved.”
– Running back Justin Davis (hamstring), offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao (hamstring) and safety John Plattenburg (hip pointer) all went to the sideline with injuries, although Sarkisian said that none of them appeared to be serious.
– Sarkisian also said that freshman defensive lineman Rasheem Green (knee) has been limited so far, but that he is getting close to working himself back into action.
News and notes
– With Davis held out of drills, Tre Madden took the bulk of the carries at tailback and looked sharp, drawing praise from Sarkisian. Freshmen Ronald Jones II and Dominic Davis were also singled out by the Trojans head coach for their performance at the position on Sunday.
– Without Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick in attendance, Connor Spears and freshman Tyler Petite took the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 offense at tight end. Petite had a strong day, leaping up high to haul in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Max Browne during one 11-on-11 period.
– Cody Temple continued to run with the No. 1 defense at one of the interior defensive end spots along with Antwaun Woods (NT) and Delvon Simmons (DE). Claude Pelon, Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend Jr. made up the No. 2 group.
– The offensive line featured a starting group for much of the day that included Toa Lobendahn at LT, Damien Mama at LG, Max Tuerk at C, Talamaivao at RG and Zach Banner at RT. Nico Falah ran with the No. 1 group at RG late when Talamaivao went to the sideline. Chad Wheeler continued to run with the No. 2 offense at LT.
– In the battle for the open placekicker position, both Matt Boermeester and Alex Wood went 4-for-5 during a late kicking period.
– Among those in attendance were Class of 2016 USC commits Liam Jimmons, C.J. Pollard and Michael Pittman.
– Also in attendance was former Trojans assistant coach and NFL All-Pro Doug Smith, the father of USC freshman center Cole Smith.
– Soma Vainuku ran behind Mama and Lobendahn and found daylight, picking up around 25 yards.
– Kessler found Darreus Rogers outside for a 15-yard touchdown play.
– Kessler connected with Dominic Davis outside, who is then taken down hard by Iman Marshall.
– Browne found Petite in the back of the end zone for 15–yard touchdown.
– Town’s pass is tipped at the line, and Masina came up with the pick.
– Darnold scrambled, then picked up 10 yards on the ground.
– Madden ran left for seven or eight yards.
– Browne found George Katrib over the middle for 25 yards before Marvell Tell made the stop.
– Jones shows some explosiveness, making a nice cut and picking up nine or 10 yards.
– Browne hit Hampton for a 30-yard gain along the sideline, with Hampton making a nice reaching grab over Marshall.
– Cam Smith and Co. stop Jones for no gain.
– Kessler hit Dominic Davis for a 12-yard gain.
– Kessler connected with Deontay Burnett downfield for a gain of close to 40 yards.
– Town hit Katrib deep for a big gain.
– Browne connected with Hampton along the right sideline for a pickup of 20 yards.
– Darnold hit Aaron Minor for a deep touchdown.
– Darnold connected with Petite for a 15-yard gain.
– Kessler hit Christian Tober for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Kessler hit Taylor McNamara outside for a gain of seven or eight yards.
– Whitney made a one-handed catch along the sideline for a 12-yard gain on a Browne pass.
– Darnold takes off running and picks up around 10 yards.
– Don Hill sacked Browne.
– Browne hit Burnett for a gain of 10 yards.
– Hill sacked Browne.
– On the first play of the final five-play challenge, Madden made a nice cut at the line and picked up five or six yards.
– Kessler hit Steven Mitchell outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– A host of defenders stopped Madden for no gain.
– Su’a Cravens sacked Kessler.
– Kessler throws outside to Mitchell, but he’s stopped for a short gain