By Johnny Curren
Just one day after Clay Helton was met by an eruption of cheers from his players following the announcement that he had been hired on as USC’s permanent head coach, the Trojans were back at work on Tuesday, and with a tough Stanford team coming up on Saturday in the Pac-12 title game, it was back to business as usual.
“Not one thing [has changed],” Helton said. “What you see is what you get. Every day I’m the same guy. I just appreciated the guys – they came out here [and] they were laser-focused today. It was one of the better practices of the year. You can tell that they’re on a mission. And they made it easy for me, to be honest with you. They made it easy for all of the coaches today. You can see the sense of urgency that they have.”
The Trojans haven’t faced Stanford since back in the third week of the season when – still led by Steve Sarkisian – they fell to the Cardinal by a final score of 41-31. But under Helton the Trojans have won five of their last seven contests while showcasing a more physical brand of play, and on Tuesday he said that he’s also noticed a difference in their demeanor.
“I just see a confidence about them that I saw today,” Helton said. “I don’t think it’s a cockiness, but it’s a confidence that they belong as a championship football team – they they’ve progressed into a championship caliber football team. Obviously we’re playing one of the better teams, not only in our conference, but in the country this week. And I just get the feeling that they’re confident that not only can they compete against a talented team, but they’ve got an awesome opportunity to go win a Pac-12 championship – if they play disciplined, solid football.
Banner adds clarity to meaning of Tweet
USC redshirt-junior offensive tackle Zach Banner caused some unintended confusion last week when he sent out a message on Twitter prior to the UCLA game that read, ‘Can’t believe it’s the last one in the Coli tomorrow already.’
Some took the message to mean that Banner had already made his decision to declare for the NFL draft, but as he explained on Tuesday, that isn’t the case.
“I just want to clarify, I meant it was our last game, as a team, in the Coliseum,” Banner said. “I didn’t want to scare anybody. I haven’t made that commitment yet. I will be making my decision soon though…over the next couple of weeks.”
News and notes
– Center Khaliel Rodgers, who suffered a high ankle sprain against UCLA, was not at practice on Tuesday. Helton said that he is rehabbing the injury, and that he received a PRP injection to speed up the process. His status will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
– With Rodgers sidelined, Nico Falah spent the entire day with the No. 1 offense at center. Viane Talamaivao went exclusively with the No. 2 offense at center, with Chris Brown filling his spot with the No. 1 offense at right guard.
– Jordan Simmons spent the entire day at right guard with the No. 2 offense. He had been lining up exclusively on the defensive line since this past summer, after beginning his career on the offensive line.
– Others who did not participate in practice include cornerback Jonathan Lockett (knee) and John Houston (back).
– Linebacker Osa Masina (hamstring) and safety Leon McQuay III (knee) were limited.
– Wide receiver Isaac Whitney (clavicle) did some light work on the side of the field with a trainer.
– There was an early one-on-one period that was highlighted by the play of freshman cornerback Iman Marshall, who on Tuesday was named USC Credit Union Men’s Student-Athlete of the Week for his performance against UCLA. On one early rep Marshall just missed out on an interception as he broke up a pass intended for Jalen Greene. Then, a few reps later he got his pick, leaping up high along the sideline to snag a Cody Kessler pass away from Greene.
– Cravens blocked a Chris Tilbey punt during a special teams period.
– During a field goal period, Alex Wood connected on 3 of 4 attempts, with a long of 37 yards.
– During a late 11-on-11 period Quinton Powell came up with the arguable play of the day, intercepting a Kessler pass over the middle of the field, and making a nice return to top it off.
– Ronald Jones II made a nice cut at the line and picked up close to 10 yards before Adoree’ Jackson made the stop.
– Jones ran for a gain of 5 or 6 yards before Chris Hawkins made the stop.
– Ace’Cedric Ware bounced a run outside and picked up close to 20 yards.
– Olajuwon Tucker stopped Dominic Davis after a 4 or 5-yard gain.
– Michael Hutchings and others stopped Ware for no gain.
– Rasheem Green stopped Jones for no gain.
– Greg Townsend Jr. and others stopped ware for a big loss.
– Kessler hit Taylor McNamara outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards before Marshall made the stop.
– Kessler hit Rogers over the middle for a gain of 10 yards before Uchenna Nwosu made the stop.
– Kessler connected with Tyler Petite over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Kessler hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a gain of 12 or 13 yards.
– Jones ran for a gain of 7 yards before Marvell Tell made the stop.
– Malik Dorton sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Jones outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit JuJu Smith-Schuster outside, but Kevon Seymour made a leaping deflection.
– Tucker and others stopped James Toland IV for a loss.
– Max Browne went deep to Cyrus Hobbi, but Marshall broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Hampton outside for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Kessler hit Greene in the back of the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown with Isaiah Langley in coverage.
– Kessler hit ware outside for a gain of 15 yards.