By Johnny Curren
After noticing a slight drop-off in intensity during Monday’s workout, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said that he was pleased with the way his team rebounded on Tuesday, coming out with renewed enthusiasm and putting together a solid practice session on Day 4 of fall camp.
Wearing shorts, shoulder pads and helmets for the second consecutive day, it was a workout marked by physical play and plenty of fireworks, particularly by the Trojans ground game – something the Trojans head coach was quick to point out.
“I thought the running game, on offense, was much better tonight,” Sarkisian said. “The pad level was better. The execution was better.”
It was tailback Tre Madden, in particular, who really shined. 100 percent recovered from the toe injury that forced him to miss the 2014 season, he showed strong vision and quickness throughout the workout, and he caught everyone’s attention on one play where he ripped off a 30-yard-plus gain after running between Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama before finding daylight.
“I think he’s a good fit for our scheme,” Sarkisian said. “We thought that last year too. This is back-to-back really good practices for him.”
But Madden wasn’t the only player who provided big plays on offense. In fact, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster might have had his best workout of camp up to this point. The Long Beach (Calif.) Poly product caught passes all over the field on Tuesday, including one deep bomb from Cody Kessler in which Kevon Seymour and Chris Hawkins converged on him after he caught the ball at the five-yard-line, only to both bounce off his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, allowing him to jog into the end zone to complete the touchdown play.
“We wanted to make kind of an emphasis of getting him going,” Sarkisian said. “He looked more aggressive to me too, of attacking the football, and he made some big plays. He made some pretty cool third-down catches, and obviously a couple deep balls as well.”
Defensive front comes up clutch
It was the defense, however, that stepped up when it counted most – in the session-ending five-play challenge. Trailing 2-1, the defensive front really came alive on the final two plays, which were both third-and-long situations. First Greg Townsend Jr. came up with the sack on Cody Kessler, and one play later, it was Scott Felix who did the same, giving the defense a 3-2 victory.
“That’s what should happen,” Sarkisian said. “We should be able to force teams into third-and-long, and we need to rush the passer. That’s an area which we can really improve upon from last year. It’s been a point of emphasis of ours, and it showed up there at the end of practice.”
– Justin Davis (hamstring), Noah Jefferson (elbow), John Plattenburg (hip) and Viane Talamaivao (hamstring) did not participate in practice.
– Rasheem Green (knee) remained limited.
– Dominic Davis, who went to the sideline on Monday with a lower back/tailbone injury, returned on Tuesday and participated in the entire practice session.
News and notes
– When asked what his plans are as far as who will return kickoffs and punts, Sarkisian answered simply with, “Adoree’ [Jackson].” Jackson also came up with one of the plays of the day on defense when he stripped tailback Dominic Davis of the ball, and returned it the opposite way.
– With Talamaivao sidelined again, the Trojans featured a starting offensive line group for much of the day that included Chad Wheeler at LT, Damien Mama at LG, Max Tuerk at C, Toa Lobendahn at RG and Zach Banner at RT. There was quite a bit of movement at times, however, with Lobendahn spending some time at LT, Chuma Edoga at RT, Chris Brown at RG and Nico Falah at RG.
– On the defensive line, Claude Pelon moved into the starting lineup for the first time this camp and spent the majority of the day running with the No. 1 group at DE, with Cody Temple taking reps with the No. 2 unit.
– In the placekicker competition Matt Boermeester connected on 3 of 4 attempts, with Alex Wood connecting on 2 of 3 attempts. The lone attempt that Boermeester didn’t make was actually blocked by Delvon Simmons, with Jackson scooping it up and taking it to the house.
– There was a spirited one-on-one session, with Smith-Schuster and Seymour have some great battles, although it was Smith-Schuster who came out on the winning end more often than not. Steven Mitchell Jr. also made a nice diving grab against Hawkins and Iman Marshall broke up a pass that Isaac Whitney had in his hands.
– Among those in attendance was former Trojans player Shaun Cody, as well as scouts from the Dallas Cowboys.
– The Trojans are scheduled to practice in full pads for the first time this camp on Wednesday.
– Kessler connected deep with Smith-Schuster at the five-yard line, with Seymour and Hawkins bouncing off the wide receiver, allowing him run into the end zone.
– Kessler connected outside to De’Quan Hampton for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Madden picked up seven or eight yards after making a nice cut at the line.
– Joel Foy sacked Max Browne.
– Browne hit Ronald Jones II outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Sam Darnold connected with Connor Spears for a gain of 13 yards before Davonte Nunnery made the stop.
– Michael Hutchings and Christian Rector sacked Browne.
– Jabari Ruffin stopped Madden for no gain.
– Dominic Davis ran left and showed a nice burst of speed, bouncing the play outside and picking up close to 20 yards before Lamar Dawson pushed him out-of-bounds.
– Kessler connected with Smith-Schuster outside for 10 yards.
– Kessler hit Smith Schuster over the middle for close to 10 yards.
– Ricky Town hit Hampton for a gain of seven or eight yards over the middle.
– Hampton made a beautiful one-handed grab deep along the sideline with Marshall in coverage, on a pass thrown by Browne.
– Leon McQuay III picked off a Browne pass outside.
– Browne threw a pass over the middle to Jones, but Ykili Ross got there in a hurry and deflected the ball in the air, with Uchenna Nwosu making the interception.
– Kessler connected with Darreus Rogers over the middle for 15 yards before John Houston Jr. made the stop.
– Town swung a pass outside to James Toland IV, who put a juke move on Nwosu and broke loose for a 20-yard gain.
– Browne hit Whitney over the middle for close to 15 yards.
– Tyler Petite made a diving grab for a gain of eight yards on a pass thrown by Kessler.
– Jonathan Lockett broke up a Browne pass intended for Hampton.
– Lockett came up with the interception outside on a pass thrown by Browne.
– Madden ripped off a 30-yard-plus run.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster in traffic for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Madden ran up the gut for a gain of around 15 yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– Soma Vainuku ran left for a gain of seven or eight yards.
– Vainuku picked up close to 10 yards with a physical run.
– Jackson stripped the ball loose form Dominic Davis and returned it.
– Browne hit Jones outside for a gain of 10 yards before Houston leveled him near the sideline.
– Browne hit Whitney over the middle for a 30-yard-plus touchdown.
– Gustin stopped Dominic Davis for a loss.
– On the first play of the final five-play challenge, Madden ran up the gut for a four or five yards.
– The exchange between Kessler and Madden was fumbled.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster deep along the sideline with Seymour in coverage.
– Townsend Jr. sacked Kessler.
– Felix sacked Kessler.