By Johnny Curren
Not even a light, but steady stream of rare Southern California rain could slow down the Trojans quarterbacks on Tuesday. Picking up where they left off this past Saturday, Cody Kessler and the rest of the USC passers threw deep early and often, connecting with their targets more often times than not to create highlight-reel touchdown plays.
“I think the biggest thing that jumped out today was the offense’s ability to create explosive plays,” said USC head coach Steve Sarkisian following the shorts, shoulder pads and helmets workout on Cromwell Field. “It has been a point of emphasis for the last couple practices, and Cody really throwing the ball deep down the field, and it showed up today.”
Kessler’s barrage of deep connections started with a 50-yard-plus touchdown toss to Ajene Harris, and also included a deep pass down the middle of the field to Steven Mitchell that resulted in a 90-yard scoring play, as well as a 90-yard touchdown pass to Adoree’ Jackson. Max Browne found plenty of success throwing down the field as well, connecting with Robby Kolanz, Aaron Minor and Isaac Whitney among others.
It was easily the most impressive aerial display put on by the Trojans offense this spring.
When asked just how often he would, ideally, like to have his quarterbacks throw deep during the course of a game, Sarkisian gave an interesting answer, citing the influence that former Raiders owner and general manager Al Davis had on his philosophy in that regard.
“His theory was you should throw two deep balls a quarter, which is eight a game,” said Sarkisian, who was an assistant with Davis’ Oakland Raiders in 2004. “I know that sounds really simple, but when you start adding that up, that’s eight times you throw the ball beyond 40 yards down the field. Whether you complete them or not, that makes a defense weary of, ‘man, I might get beat deep.’ And it generally makes a lot of the things underneath a little easier. We don’t hold hard and fast to that number, but it is kind of an easy number to target, to say, ‘hey, if we do that, we can make it pretty hard on our opponents.’ “
Defense steps up in the clutch
While the offense undoubtedly stole the show on Tuesday, the defense regrouped in time to pull off a 3-2 victory over the offense in the final challenge. The offense actually jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, but the defense dominated the final three snaps, with Delvon Simmons coming up with a big sack on Kessler on the fifth and final play.
Following practice, Sarkisian noted how pleased he was with the way that the defense, which had struggled earlier in practice, was able to rebound and rise to the challenge at the most crucial time in practice.
“What I said to the team, we’re going to have games where one side of the ball might perform better than the other,” Sarkisian said. “We might have a game that is 45-42 – that’s our conference. There’s going to be games like that. But at the end of it, we’re going to be counting on our defense to get that critical stop at the end to go win the game, and that’s exactly what happened today.”
News and notes
– Sarkisian said that Safety John Plattenburg was limited due to an ankle injury. With Plattenburg sidelined, Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins were the two starting safeties.
– Sarkisian also said that that defensive lineman Claude Pelon missed practice to concentrate on academics. Malik Dorton slid into his spot with the No. 1 defense.
– Khaliel Rodgers (shoulder) returned to action and ran with the No. 2 offense at center, which allowed Toa Lobendahn, who had been filling in at that spot as of late, to slide back to left tackle with the No. 1 offense. Nico Falah lined up with the No. 2 offense at left tackle.
– Jackson spent the day on offense. In addition to his long catch from Kessler down the sideline, he also turned a short Kessler completion into a 50-yard touchdown. Sarkisian said that his staff still hasn’t decided whether the two-way star will play on offense, defense or both sides of the ball in the spring game this Saturday.
– Hawkins came up with the hit of the day when he drilled Justin Davis behind the line of scrimmage soon after he caught a quick pass from Kessler. Hawkins had an active day, putting another physical hit on Davis earlier in practice on a running play, and breaking up a deep pass intended for JuJu Smith.
– Tre Madden appeared to get in some brief light contact work during an 11-on-11 period, and he was moving and cutting well.
– There was a spirited one-on-one period early. Two of the more notable highlights included Smith making a leaping grab over Seymour, and Jackson making a diving catch with Su’a Cravens in coverage.
– Incoming Trojans players Rasheem Green, John Houston Jr. and Caleb Wilson, as well as Class of 2017 WR prospect Terrell Bynum, were among those in attendance.
– Kessler hit Mitchell short over the middle, and the speedy receiver bounced it outside and picked up a total of close to 20 yards before Hawkins forced him out of bounds.
– Kessler connected with Darreus Rogers outside for 10 yards.
– Madden rushed for a physical seven or eight yards.
– Browne scrambled, and then found Whitney over the middle for around 15 yards before Jalen Jones made the stop.
– Quinton Powell stopped James Toland IV for no gain.
– Browne hit Toland outside for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Kessler completed a pass outside to Connor Spears for eight or nine yards before Seymour made the stop.
– Browne threw deep to Mitchell, who leapt up high to make the 40-yard catch with Matt Lopes in coverage.
– Kessler threw deep around 40 to 50 yards downfield, and Harris made a nice one-handed grab and completed to 60-yard touchdown play.
– Davis weaved through traffic for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne connected deep with Kolanz along the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown with Lamont Simmons in coverage.
– Browne found Aaron Minor along the sideline for a 40-yard-plus touchdown with Lopes in coverage.
– Browne connected with Whitney down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown with Simmons in coverage.
– Browne hit Minor down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
– Simmons sacked Kessler
– Browne found Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick over the middle for a 15-yard gain.
– Browne threw outside to Whitney who gained around 15 yards and got close to the goal line, but appeared to be short after receiving a hard hit from Michael Hutchings.
– Vainuku had a tough six-yard run.
– Kessler found a wide-open Mitchell over the middle around 40 yard downfield, and then the speedy receiver went the rest of the way to complete the 90-yard scoring play.
– Kessler connected with Jackson deep along the sideline for a 90-yard-plus touchdown with McQuay in coverage.
– Davis ran hard for a gain of eight or nine yards.
– Kessler hit Rogers outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Dawson broke up a Kessler pass intended for Christian Tober.
– Seymour broke up a Kessler pass intended for Smith.
– Simmons sacked Kessler.