The Trojans were in a noticeably upbeat mood on Saturday as they took part in a wet and muggy full-pads practice session that featured plenty of 11-on-11 and situational work – including in the final competition period.
With the No. 1 defense hooting and hollering during the only instance of a downpour of rain, the No. 1 offense was put in a 3rd-and-goal scenario at the two-yard-line in a best-of-five challenge. On the first play quarterback Max Browne, lining up under center, couldn’t quite grip the snap from Nico Falah, and defensive end Malik Dorton made the recovery, sending the entire defensive unit into a celebratory frenzy. Feeding off that momentum, linebacker Quinton Powell dropped Justin Davis for a loss on the next play, before Ronald Jones II finally gave the offense a play in the win column as he ran outside before cutting in-between two defenders and finding the end zone. On play No. 4, however, it was outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu who came up big, stopping Jones short of the end zone, and giving the defense a 3-1 victory that, for the second consecutive practice session, sent the offense on a lap around Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.
Following practice, USC head coach Clay Helton was clearly pleased not only with the performance of Clancy Pendergast’s defensive group, but also with the spirit of the team in general.
“They stood up to that challenge,” Helton said of the defense. “They did a really nice job. What I love, and what you see out here, is the kids are having fun. They’re having fun just playing ball and competing against one another – bouncing around, dancing, and they are understanding that to the winner go the spoils. To the losers, we’re running. A loss should hurt, and I think they’re learning that through this camp.”
Trojan legends take in practice
One big contributing factor to the overall mood of practice on Saturday was the fact that there were well over 20 former Trojans players in attendance, including such USC legends as Marcus Allen, Matt Leinart, Anthony Davis, Sam Cunningham and Willie McGinest.
It was Helton, himself, who invited the group out, and it was clear that their presence was a special treat for both the players and the coaches.
“I don’t get star struck very often when it comes to Hollywood stars, but when it comes to USC football stars, I get goose bumps in a hurry,” Helton said. “It really showed our players what a tradition of excellence we stand for, where the bar is set, and the relationships that I really want built between our current players and our past players. There’s so much knowledge that can be given from a big brother, and they’re our big brothers.”
Making perhaps the biggest impression was Allen, who gave an impassioned speech to the team at the end of practice that contained an important message.
“When he speaks, you listen,” said Helton, who has known Allen since childhood, when his father (Kim) served as an assistant with the L.A. Raiders. “He just really challenged us, and he challenged our football team. It is the quality of play, it’s about technique and fundamentals – it’s not about the hype. It’s not about how many plays you run. It’s about getting good at something, and being more physical than the other team. It was a great challenge. It’s something that we’ve been preaching through camp, and for it to be heard from one of the greats – a lot of times with coaches, you know how it is, you get into the fifth week of practice and sometimes they start drowning you out. They’ll never drown out Marcus Allen.”
Other former players on hand included Sam Baker, Matt Barkley, Chris Barrett, John David Booty, Shaun Cody, Al Cowlings, Chris Hale, Brandon Hance, Alex Holmes, John Jackson, Lawrence Jackson, Mike McDonald, Paul McDonald, Kyle Moore, Will Poole, Keith Rivers, J.R. Tavai, Terrell Thomas and Mike Williams.
News and notes
– Among those who did not participate in practice were John Plattenburg (ankle), Jonathan Lockett (concussion) and Clayton Johnston (concussion).
– Jordan Simmons also did not appear to take part in any contact portion of practice, although he was suited up. The starting offensive line on Saturday consisted of Chad Wheeler at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Nico Falah at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG, and Zach Banner at RT. The No. 2 offensive line consisted of Roy Hemsley at LT, Damien Mama at LG, Cole Smith at C, Jordan Austin at RG, and Nathan Smith at RT.
– Noah Jefferson (back) made it through the entire practice session. He spent the day rotating with Jacob Daniel at nose tackle with the No. 1 defense.
– Ajene Harris again spent the entire day on defense, running at cornerback with the No. 2 group.
– Cornerback Isaiah Langley came up with the arguable play of the day during a late 11-on-11 period, intercepting a Sam Darnold pass that was intended for De’Quan Hampton and returning it for a touchdown. It was the first interception that Darnold has thrown this spring in an 11-on-11 period, and it occurred during the lone series of plays that Darnold took with the No. 1 offense. He was with the No. 2 offense during all other periods.
– Among the players who stood out on defense on Saturday were Uchenna Nwosu and Rasheem Green – both of whom made a number of stops at or behind the line-of-scrimmage.
– Leon McQuay III came up with a blocked field goal on a Matt Boermeester attempt. Boermeester did hit a 50-yard field goal at one point.
– In terms of situational scenarios, the team worked on Hail Mary throws, plays from inside the red zone where the quarterback had to throw to the end zone because time was running out, as well as situations where the offense had to run one play, then kill the clock to set up a field goal attempt at the end of a game or half.
– There was another large group of recruits in attendance on Saturday, including Class of 2017 USC safety commit Bubba Bolden (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman), cornerback Alex Perry (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman), Ohio State cornerback commit Shaun Wade (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian), linebacker Sampson Niu (San Diego, Calif./Madison) as well as Class of 2018 USC linebacker commit Raymond Scott (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne). Niu also received a scholarship offer from USC on Saturday. Also on hand were Class of 2016 USC signees E.J. Price (Lawrenceville, Ga./Archer) and Tyler Vaughns (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat).
– Nwosu stopped Justin Davis after a short gain.
– J. Davis ran outside for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Max Browne hit Hampton deep over the middle for a 50-yard TD.
– Browne hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Darnold hit JuJu Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of close to 25 yards.
– Darnold hit Taylor McNamara deep over the middle for a gain of 50 yards.
– Marvell Tell and others stopped J. Davis after a short gain.
– Rasheem Green and McQuay sacked Browne.
– Dominic Davis showed off his speed, getting to the edge and breaking loose for a 30-yard gain.
– Jalen Greene scrambled and picked up five yards.
– Green and others stopped J. Davis for no gain.
– Browne hit J. Davis outside for a gain of 25 yards before Deion Hart made the stop.
– Ronald Jones II ran inside for 5 or 6 yards.
– J. Davis ran outside for 5 yards.
– Nwosu stopped James Toland IV for a loss.
– Jalen Greene hit Josh Imatorbhebhe was a 10-yard gain.
– Nwosu sacked Greene.
– Darnold hit Isaac Whitney outside for almost 30 yards with C.J. Pollard in coverage.
– Liam Jimmons and Christian Rectord combined for the sack on Darnold.
– Kevin Scott stopped Aca’Cedric Ware after a short gain.
– Darnold hit Deontay Burnett over the middle for around 20 yards.
– Darnold scrambled, then hit Hampton in the end zone for a touchdown.
– Darnold hit Mitchell for a 10-yard TD.
– Browne hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a 15-yard gain before Langley made the stop.
– Davis ran inside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Dorton and Gustin stopped Ware for no gain.
– Browne hit Ware outside for a 10-yard TD.
– John Houston Jr. put a big hit on Jones to stop the play for no gain.
– Jabari Ruffin stopped Jones for no gain.
– Jones ran outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Greene hit Whitney outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Houston stopped Greene after a short gain.
* Darnold’s plays with the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense*
– Ware ran outside for a short gain.
– Darnold scrambled and ran for a yard or two before Gustin made the stop.
– Darnold threw outside, but no receiver was there and it fell incomplete.
– Green stopped D. Davis for no gain.
– Hutchings sacked Darnold
– Darnold tried to hit Hampton outside, but Langley was there to pick it off and take it back for 6.