By Johnny Curren
Dressed in full-pads, the Trojans took part in a 75-play scrimmage inside the Coliseum on Monday. It was officially practice No. 13 of fall camp, but to USC head coach Clay Helton it was simply “reality day.”
“You come in the Coliseum, you make all of the coaches get off the field, you put them in the press box and have them put on their headsets,” Helton said. “Make them play it like a real live game, and see who really reacts in this atmosphere and performs.”
And Helton didn’t mince words following the two-hour workout, not all of what he saw was good.
“The things that stood out to me were the penalties,” Helton said. “It’s good to have these referees out here helping us today. And then just some lack of assignments that are going to show up on tape, especially with some young and inexperienced guys. We’ve got a lot of work to do, that’s why this day is important and this week is important.”
When it came to the quarterback competition, redshirt-freshman Sam Darnold appeared to have the better day, throwing two touchdown passes, including a 45-yard scoring bomb to Velus Jones to cap the session.
Redshirt-junior Max Browne, meanwhile, had some struggles early, and he wound up throwing a total of three interceptions if you count one that came on a two-point conversion play. Two of those turnovers did not appear to be his fault, however, with Steven Mitchell and Ronald Jones II both bobbling passes into the air before they were picked off.
To Browne’s credit he did finish the day well, particularly in a late two-minute drill where he drove the offense down the length of the field before hitting fullback Reuben Peters in the flat for a three-yard touchdown pass.
“He did some really nice things late I thought, especially in the red zone and in the two-minute drive,” Helton said of Browne, who also had a 25-yard touchdown strike to Deontay Burnett wiped out by a flag on the offense. “He acted like a vet, and those are things that you want to see.”
Burnett had the best day of any Trojans receiver, hauling in a number of passes all over the field, including a 10-yard touchdown pass from Darnold.
“To come out here in this competitive atmosphere, you can really see how he’s matured,” Helton said. “I think he put in two scores today for us, and really played like a vet player – not like a young kid. It was great to see.”
Helton also praised the play of a trio of tailbacks in Justin Davis, Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware, as well as cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who recorded a pick-six on a pass thrown by Browne, and just missed out on another interception a little later on a pass thrown by Darnold.
News and notes
– Helton said that there were no new injuries suffered during the scrimmage.
– Among those who did not participate in practice were Michael Brown (quad), John Plattenburg (concussion), Quinton Powell (neck sprain), Kevin Scott, Marvell Tell (hamstring) and Chad Wheeler (plantar fasciitis).
– Noah Jefferson (back) suited up for the first time since the early stages of camp. He didn’t participate in the scrimmage, but after undergoing an epidural late last week, he is pain free and went through a one-on-one workout with a trainer on Monday morning. Helton said that the goal is to have Jefferson take part in individual drills on Tuesday.
– Nose tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu received a lighter workload due to blisters on his feet. Khaliel Rodgers received received increased reps as a result.
– JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe/ankle) took part in the entire practice session.
– Helton said that Monday marked the first day that linebacker Cameron Smith went through an entire practice session since suffering a knee injury last season.
“Today was his first all-the-way, full-go day – no limitations,” Helton said. “He was in there the entire time as you saw. Live each period, so I think he’s really getting healthy.”
– USC’s starting offense to begin the day had Zach Banner at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Toa Lobendahn at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG, Chuma Edoga at RT, Taylor McNamara at TE, JuJu Smith-Schuster at WR, Darreus Rogers at WR, Steven Mitchell at WR, Justin Davis at TB and Max Browne at QB.
– The No. 1 base defense to begin the day had Rasheem Green at DT, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu at N, Malik Dorton at DT, Porter Gustin at Predator OLB, Uchenna Nwosu at SAM OLB, Michael Hutchings at MIKE ILB, Osa Masina at WILL ILB, Adoree’ Jackson at CB, Iman Marshall at CB, Chris Hawkins at S and Leon McQuay at S.
– The defense also went to a Nickel set at one point that saw Masina come out, and Ykili Ross come in at safety, with McQuay sliding over to cover the slot.
– Placekicker Matt Boermeester made 10-of-13 field goal attempts throughout the course of the day, with a long of 45 yards.
– In discussing the battle at the left guard position, Helton said that he believes that Chris Brown and Damien Mama are even at this point, and that in his opinion both will play in the season-opener against Alabama.
– Browne tried to hit Mitchell over the middle, but the ball bounced off the receiver’s hands and into the arms of Ross for a pick.
– Ross stopped R. Jones after a gain of 4 or 5 yards.
– Darnold went deep to Isaac Whitney. The ball fell incomplete, but pass interference was called on Jonathan Lockett.
– Darnold hit Tyler Petite over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Burnett outside for a short gain before Isaiah Langley made the stop.
– Ware ran up the middle for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Uchenna Nwosu sacked Darnold.
– Darnold threw deep with the pass falling incomplete, but pass interference was called again – it looked like on Ross.
– Gustin stopped R. Jones for a loss.
– Gustin stopped R. Jones after a short gain.
– Browne tried to hit Burnett outside, but Jackson read the pass perfectly, picked it off, and took it the other way.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Ware ran up the middle for a gain of 9 yards.
– J. Davis ran up the middle for a gain of 5 yards.
– J. Davis ran for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Smith stopped Ware for no gain.
– John Houston Jr. sacked Darnold.
– Darnold hit Burnett outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Burnett outside for a 10-yard TD.
– Darnold tried to hit Smith-Schuster outside, but Jackson nearly picks it off.
– R. Jones ran for 5 yards.
– Rodgers and Co. stopped Ware after a short gain.
– Don Hill stopped Ware for no gain.
– Browne had a hard time handling Lobedahn’s snap that appeared to be low, and Browne throws an incomplete pass.
– Browne threw a 25-yard TD over the middle to Burnett, but it’s called back due to an ineligible receiver downfield.
– Browne hit R. Jones outside for a gain of 13 yards.
– Browne hit Reuben Peters outside for a 3-yard TD.
– On the two-point conversion, Browne’s pass bounced off of R. Jones hands and into McQuay’s arms for an interception.
– Matt Fink hit Michael Pittman for a gain of 12 yards.
– Fink hit Jalen Greene in the corner of the end zone for a 8-yard TD.
– Browne hit Burnett outside for 20 yards.
– Browne hit J. Davis over the middle for 7 or 8 yards.
– Browne hit Hampton outside for a gain of 20 yards.
– Darnold hit Tyler Vaughns over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Josh Imatorbhebhe outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe for 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Velus Jones for a 45-yard TD.