By Johnny Curren
The Trojans were back at work in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Friday, and for the third consecutive day USC head coach Clay Helton had his team work extensively on some specific game situations.
One such scenario had the offense backed up at their own two-yard-line, with crowd noise and some periodic music piped in. The period was marked by some spotty play by the offense, however, with the defensive front-seven having their way for the most part.
“I didn’t think it was very good – a little bit sloppy,” Helton said. “They need to do it again, to be honest with you. We know that when you’re playing in the Pac-12, and you’re playing in an elite conference, and playing some elite non-conference games, it’s going to get loud. We need that again, so it will be echoed again somewhere throughout camp.”
The team went through another situational scenario shortly thereafter that had the offense attempting to put together a scoring drive from their own 30-yard-line with 1:30 left on the clock. Browne and the No. 1 offense put together a solid drive in this one that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown pass to De’Quan Hampton.
Sam Darnold, running with the No. 2 group, was able to complete a few passes before a pair of freshmen on the defensive side of the ball combined to make the play of the day as outside linebacker Connor Murphy got his hand up at the line to tip Darnold’s pass in the air, with safety C.J. Pollard hauling the ball in for an interception.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Murphy has made a strong impression on his head coach over the past two days while lining up at the Predator spot – with the No. 2 defense at times.
“I think he’s got a ways to go, but gosh darn he’s learning fast,” Helton said. “Yesterday, one-on-one pass-rush, I don’t see Zach Banner get beat very often, and he had a nice move against him that led to a sack. And then he makes a big play today, so it’s neat to see that big of a body step up and we’ll see how it progresses, but he’s doing some really good things.”
Gustin putting together strong camp
Of course, when it comes to the battle for the starting job at that Predator position, sophomore Porter Gustin looks to have a large lead over everyone right now. Having earned two starts as a freshman, he’s been running exclusively with the No. 1 group since this past spring.
Looking to make a name for himself this upcoming season, he’s been extremely active throughout fall camp so far, making a number of plays behind the line-of-scrimmage, including on Friday.
“There’s always something to prove,” Gustin said. “I’m just striving for greatness. I don’t want to be just another guy.”
Having played at an eye-popping 260 pounds in spring ball, the 6-foot-5 Gustin revealed after practice that he actually bulked up even more this past summer, and he believes that it’s played a definite role in his play.
“I fluctuate between 265 and 270,” Gustin said. “I’m going against Zach [Banner] every day, so it’s difficult to be able to sit down and set an edge. I just wanted to put on a few pounds and be a little bit stronger so I’d be able to set the edge, play the run a little bit better, and I think it’s also helped my pass-rush – being able to use more of a power rush to my game.”
News and notes
– Following practice Helton said that after speaking to those in the know, he believes that no one on the team will be declared academically ineligible heading into the season, although that isn’t set in stone just yet.
“We are under the anticipation that everybody is going to be eligible,” Helton said. “The grades are final as of next Wednesday, but with the information that we’ve got it looks like everybody is going to be eligible.”
– The list of those who did not participate in practice due to injury included Michael Brown (quad), Jamel Cook (foot), Noah Jefferson (back), Frank Martin (illness), John Plattenburg (concussion), E.J. Price (illness), Yoofi Quansah (hamstring), Kevin Scott, Marvell Tell (hamstring) and Chad Wheeler (plantar fasciitis).
– Helton said that it will likely be a couple more days before Wheeler attempts to participate in practice again.
– Iman Marshall was not at practice due to a death in the family. Ajene Harris lined up in his place with the No. 1 defense at cornerback.
– JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe/ankle) was limited, participating in early individual drills, but not the team periods.
– Returning to practice after having been out for an extended time recently was Chris Hawkins (hamstring), Matt Lopes (hamstring) and Keyshawn ‘Pie’ Young (shoulder). Young appeared to be limited, but both Hawkins and Lopes participated in almost the entire practice session. Hawkins saw time with the No. 1 group at safety, while Lopes took some reps with the No. 2 unit at safety.
– Jalen Greene (hamstring), who had been limited, was full-go as well.
– Jack Jones went to the sideline late with a quad injury.
– USC’s starting offense to begin the day consisted of Max Browne at QB, Justin Davis at RB, Taylor McNamara at TE, Darreus Rogers at WR, Steven Mitchell at WR, De’Quan Hampton at WR, Zach Banner at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Toa Lobendahn at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG and Chuma Edoga at RT.
– Brown also took some brief reps with the No. 2 offense at right tackle on Friday. Mama took some brief reps with the No. 1 group at left guard.
– The starting defense consisted of Gustin at predator OLB, Uchenna Nwosu at SAM OLB, Rasheem Green at DT, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu at N, Malik Dorton at DT, Michael Hutchings at MIKE ILB, Osa Masina at WILL ILB, Adoree’ Jackson at CB, Harris at CB, Chris Hawkins at S, Leon McQuay III at S.
– Placekicker Matt Boermeester had another solid day, going 5-for-6 on his field goal attempts, with a long of 43 yards. Wyatt Schmidt went 2-for-3.
– Among those in attendance on Friday were USC president Max Nikias, Trojans athletic director Lynn Swann and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden. Helton noted that Gruden and several members of the Trojans coaching staff know each other well.
“He’s somebody that our defensive staff had the opportunity to go out and visit with this spring, and he’s been a great friend of Clancy [Pendergast’s] for a long time,” Helton said. “He raised one of my mentors in Johnny Morton, who was here, and he’s one of the legends of the game. He gave me some great advice, the same advice my dad gave me at one point in time, ‘hey, just go be yourself. You get one time to do this. Do what you believe in and be yourself.’ And it was just awesome to have him. He’s one of those guys as a young coach you’ve looked up to your whole life, and to see him on the field is pretty cool.”
– Gustin stopped J. Davis for no gain.
– Browne hit Hampton over the middle for a big gain.
– Khaliel Rodgers and Quinton Powell combined to stop Aca’Cedric Ware after a short gain.
– Ronald Jones II ran up the middle for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Gustin stopped Jones for a loss.
– J. Davis ran outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards before Masina made the stop.
– Browne hit Deontay Burnett in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard TD.
– Browne hit Tyler Vaughns outside for a leaping 10-yard touchdown over Jackson.
– Darnold hit Jalen Greene over the middle for a 20-yard TD.
– Darnold hit Dominic Davis outside for a 10-yard TD.
– Dorton and Hutchings stopped J. David after a short gain.
– Nwosu dropped J. Davis for a loss.
– Josh Fatu stopped Ware for no gain.
– Powell dropped Ware for a loss and what might have been a safety.
– Jones ran outside for 9 yards.
– Jones runs it inside for 5 or 6 yards.
– Darnold hit Rogers outside for a 7-yard gain.
– Browne hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe for a 5-yard gain.
– Browne hit D. Imatorbhebhe deep for a gain of close to 30 yards.
– Browne fumbles the snap.
– Nwosu sacked Browne.
– Browne hit Rogers outside for a gain of 9 yards.
– Browne hit Mitchell for a 55-yard TD pass.
– Browne hit Hampton outside for a 15-yard TD.
– Rasheem Green batted Darnold’s pass down at the line.
– Darnold hit Jones outside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Darnold tripped and the play is called dead.
– Darnold hit Greene for 8 or 9 yards.
– Murphy tips Darnold’s pass up into the air, and Pollard makes the pick.
– Darnold hit Hampton outside for a 10-yard gain.
– Darnold hit Rogers outside for close to 10 yards.
– Darnold hit J. Davis outside for a gain of over 20 yards.
– Gustin stopped Jones for no gain.