By Johnny Curren
After a few days away, the Trojans were back on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field in full pads on Tuesday, gearing up for their Jan. 2 Rose Bowl clash with Penn State.
Having already installed the initial game plan for the highly anticipated contest last week, which they treated as a typical game week, the team is doing it all over again for a second time. USC head coach Clay Helton is hoping that the advanced preparation, not to mention the element of routine, will have the Trojans in the right frame of mind when they take the field in Pasadena.
“I think one of the things that happens to you is if you don’t go ahead and put the game plan in prior to going to the bowl game destination site, I think you get to the bowl destination and there’s too many distractions,” Helton said. “So, we put the entire game plan in last week. We started over this week and made any subtle changes that we needed to, so we’ve got two weeks of working on a plan, and now we’ll review once we get to the bowl site one last time. Hopefully that transfers into a good January 2nd bowl game.”
Helton noted that one primary focus of practice on Tuesday was preparing for the Penn State rushing attack, and specifically running back Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
“You look at Barkley, and studying him more, he’s probably the most complete back that we’ve seen this year,” Helton said. “A 220-pound man that’s rushed for over 1300 yards, and he’s really kind of a dual threat. You look at him out of the backfield with 23 catches, he’s as complete a back as we’ve seen.”
Greene gaining confidence of Helton
With Max Browne out of the program and set to join Pittsburgh, Jalen Greene continued to split his time between wide receiver and quarterback on Tuesday. Helton said last week that in an emergency scenario in which Sam Darnold were to go out, the Gardena (Calif.) Serra product would likely the get the call to come in as the Trojans’ signal caller.
Greene saw time with both the No. 2 and the No. 1 offense on Tuesday, and while he’s had his ups as well as his downs over the course of the last week-and-a-half, Helton said that he’s pleased with what he’s seen from him overall.
“You know, there’s a lot of rust when you haven’t been at the position for awhile, but then you see signs of brilliance,” Helton said. “For him, he’s such a great athlete that it’s kind of like riding a bike. Is every throw perfect right now? No. But is he being efficient, getting the ball in the right place? Yes, he is.”
News and notes
– Helton said that cornerback Jonathan Lockett underwent successful hip surgery, and he will begin the rehab process on Wednesday.
– Freshman offensive tackle Nathan Smith is scheduled to undergo ACL surgery on Thursday.
– Khaliel Rodgers and Keyshawn Young continued to be sidelined due to concussion protocol.
– Chris Brown continued to take some snaps at center, at times with the No. 1 offense.
– As has become the trend during these bowl game practices, a number of the younger members of the team took part in a spirited one-on-one session following the final 11-on-11 period of the day. It was interesting to see Adoree’ Jackson spend quite a bit of time coaching up fellow cornerback Jack Jones off to the side at one point. Whatever Jackson told the freshman appeared to have resonated with him, because on the very next rep that he took he jumped up high and batted away a pass intended for Tyler Vaughns along the sideline – nearly picking it off.
– There was plenty of special teams work again on Tuesday. Matt Boermeester was really booming his kickoffs.
– Deontay Burnett put on a nice show at one point, field a punt while holding three other balls. He tried it a second time, but wound up dropping them all, which drew a rise out of his teammates.
– With juniors Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette making headlines with their respective decision to skip their teams’ end-of-season bowl games with the NFL draft looming, Helton was asked to share his thoughts on the situation.
He answered that while he feels like you would have to support the decision as their head coach, he would also, “hope that every young man would want to have one last opportunity to play with his brothers.”
– Ronald Jones II ran outside and showed off a burst of speed, picking up a big gain.
– Justin Davis ran inside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Aca’Cedric Ware followed Zach Banner for a gain of over 10 yards.
– Leon McQuay III sacked Matt Fink.
– Fink hit Sidney outside for a gain of around 20 yards before Marvell Tell III made the stop.
– Hutchings stopped Malepeai for no gain.
– Uchenna Nwosu stopped Fink for no gain after the freshman passer scrambled and tried to pick up some yards.
– Darnold hit Darreus Rogers over the middle for 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Stevie Tu’ikolovatu stopped James Toland IV for no gain.
– J. Davis weaved his way through some defenders for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Greene ran for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Greene tried to connect with Malepeai down the sideline, but Porter Gustin was in tight coverage and nearly came up with the interception.
– Greene hit Michael Pittman Jr. for 10 yards.
– Darnold threw over the middle, but Jackson was there and had an interception in his hands but dropped it.
– Darnold went deep to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but J. Jones broke it up.
– Darnold hit De’Quan Hampton down the seam for a 35-yard TD.
– Fink hit Sidney outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Greene outside for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Darnold hit Jackson outside for a big gain.
– Darnold hit Tyler Petite down the seam for a 35-yard TD.
– Christian Rector sacked Fink..
– Fink hit Sidney outside for a gain of 15 yards.