By Johnny Curren
The Trojans took part in their first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, a full-pads, live-tackling affair that was marked by physical play.
Senior outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu set the tone early for what was another strong outing by the defense – first, by snagging an interception out of the air on a Sam Darnold pass that was initially tipped by safety Marvell Tell, before he leveled Ronald Jones II after the tailback caught a quick pass outside just a couple plays later. As a unit, Clancy Pendergast’s group forced a total of three turnovers during the 70-play scrimmage.
“You can feel the physicality with this bunch,” said USC head coach Clay Helton. “This defense came out here to stop the run, especially the first-string unit, and I thought they did a nice job.”
Following practice Helton praised a number of the younger players on the team for their performance in the scrimmage, including Nickelback Jamel Cook, who picked off Matt Fink in the endzone, as well as Marlon Tuipulotu, who ran with the No. 1 defense ahead of Josh Fatu.
“On the defensive side of the ball, the guy that stood out was Marlon on the interior,” Helton said. “To see him hold the point with the first string today I thought was really impressive.”
The offense did have its moments as well, with Helton lauding the efforts of more young players in Vavae Malepeai, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Michael Pittman Jr., Velus Jones, and Fink.
Darnold also had a solid day, with Helton noting that he wasn’t necessarily to blame for the interception that he threw. Jones II ran for two touchdowns, including a beautiful 11-yarder where he showed off his speed, beating John Houston Jr. to the edge before turning up the field.
And despite some periodic penalties, not to mention those three turnovers, Helton said that as a whole, he was pleased with what his team showed.
“Both sides I thought were ultra-competitive,” Helton said. “It was a great day, and the best thing, we came out healthy, which was terrific.”
News and notes
– Dominic Davis (concussion) suited up for the first time this spring, but he did not participate in the scrimmage.
– Deontay Burnett, Daniel Imatorbhebhe (shoulder) and Porter Gustin (hand) were also suited up but did not participate in the scrimmage.
– Nico Falah (back) and Aca’Cedric Ware (foot sprain) were also among those who did not participate.
– The primary No. 1 offensive unit consisted of Darnold at QB, R. Jones II at RB, Tyler Petite at TE, Pittman at WR, J. Greene at WR, V. Jones at WR, Chuma Edoga at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Cole Smith at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG and Roy Hemsley at RT.
– Fink also took a number of reps with the No. 1 offense.
– The primary No. 1 defense featured Nwosu at SAM OLB, Oluwole Betiku at Predator OLB, Tuipulotu at DT, Rasheem Green at DT, Cameron Smith at MIKE ILB, Houston at WILL ILB, Iman Marshall at CB, Jack Jones at CB, Tell at S, Chris Hawkins at S and Ajene Harris at Nickel.
– Connor Murphy also spent extensive time with the No. 1 defense at the Predator spot in place of Betiku.
– Jordan Iosefa also had one of the highlight-reel plays of the day, forcing Cary Angeline to fumble after the big tight end caught a pass along the sideline, with Tayler Kaota making the recovery.
– Michael Brown connected on 7-of-8 attempts during a field goal period. Reid Budrovich went 6-for-8.
– Helton noted that 50 to 60 former Trojans players were in attendance, including Matt Barkley, Shaun Cody, Alex Holmes, Lawrence Jackson, John Mazur, Keith Rivers and Justin Wyatt.
– Also on hand was recent Class of 2017 tailback signee Stephen Carr (Fontana, Calif./Summit).
– Smith stopped R. Jones for no gain.
– Darnold’s pass was tipped by Tell, with Nwosu coming up with the interception.
– Darnold hit R. Jones outside, and Nwosu dropped him with a big hit.
– Fink hit Angeline outside, but Iosefa forced the fumble and Katoa recovered.
– Malepeai ran inside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Malepeai ran outside for 7 yards.
– Malepeai ran inside for a gain of around 5 yards.
– Darnold hit Pittman outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Darnold hit Greene outside for a gain of 8 yards.
– Darnold hit V. Jones down the seam for a gain of 35 yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– R. Jones ran inside for a 7-yard TD.
– Jack Sears tried to hit J. Imatorbhebhe outside, but Isaiah Langley broke up the pass.
– Sears hit J. Imatorbhebhe outside, who ran through a couple defenders for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Nwosu sacked Fink.
– Fink hit Pittman inside for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Malik Dorton sacked Sears.
– Darnold tried to hit Pittman in the end zone, but the ball fell incomplete and Marshall was flagged for pass interference.
– Darnold tried to hit Petite over the middle, but Marshall broke up the pass.
– R. Jones ran outside for an 11-yard TD.
– Grant Moore sacked Fink.
– Fink tried to hit V. Jones in the corner of the end zone, but Cook made the interception.
– Houston and Tuipulotu combined for the sack on Fink.
– Darnold hit Pittman for a gain of close to 10 yards with Marshall in tight coverage.
– Nwosu sacked Darnold.
– Sears hit Tyler Vaughns outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– There was a big collision between Iosefa and Reuben Peters on a short gain by Peters.
– Sears tried to hit Vaughns outside, but Jalen jones made a nice pass break-up.
– Houston and others stopped Malepeai after a short gain.
– Fink hit Vaughns in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard TD.
– Moore tackled Peters for a loss.