By Johnny Curren
With USC’s season-opening matchup with Alabama coming up on Saturday, game week officially got underway for the Trojans on Tuesday, with the team taking part in a full-pads practice session on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field that lasted two-and-a-half hours.
“What a great chance to be able to play the defending national champion, the No. 1 team in the country, and one of the best head coaches (Nick Saban) in the history of our profession,” Helton said. “That’s why you come to SC. You come to SC to compete against the very best.”
Helton invited Sam Cunningham, one of the stars of the Trojans’ 1970 victory over the Crimson Tide – a game that is credited with helping to integrate football in the South – to speak to the team prior to practice, and his message left a lasting impression.
“It was about being on that stage as a young person, and him just focusing on his role and his job,” Helton said. “Rather than capturing the entire complexity of the game and how important it was, he just focused on his job. And then he really talked about the leadership afterwards. It’s so important for the leadership to really remember that you have an entire season. Even though they won that game, at the end of the season they ended up 6-4-1. That 1972 team two years later, he talked about how every game was so important. Every game was more important than the next, and you look up and you’ve won a national championship.”
Wheeler gets more work in
With Chad Wheeler battling plantar fasciitis for over three weeks now, Helton announced on his Monday night radio show that sophomore Chuma Edoga will get the start against Alabama at left tackle in his place.
Wheeler suited up and took part in a portion of practice on Tuesday, however, lining up with the No. 2 offense at left tackle, and there is still hope that he will be able to contribute on Saturday in a reserve role.
“He got a new implant for his shoe – kind of a steel-made implant that helped,” Helton said. “He actually went through individuals and he got a team session in. Obviously he’s not ready for an entire game. We’ll see how he progresses, and see if he can help us in this game. Obviously, as I said last night on the radio, we’ll end up going with Chuma as the starter, but we’ll see if Chad can give us some reps.”
Helton on Masina
Helton also revealed on his Monday night radio show that Osa Masina has been suspended from USC’s game against Alabama due to a violation of team rules, and on Tuesday reports surfaced that the sophomore inside linebacker is under investigation for alleged sexual assault in both Utah and Los Angeles.
Helton addressed the issue following practice.
“Our university is aware of the investigation in Utah involving Osa, and due to privacy laws, and rights of those involved, I can’t discuss anything further,” Helton said. “Really, as a coach you’re taken out of it. This is a university matter and a university policy, and I’m confident in the guidance of the university.”
Masina did suit up and participate in practice on Tuesday.
News and notes
– Jamel Cook (foot), John Plattenburg (concussion) and Ykili Ross (illness) did not participate in practice.
– Helton said that he expects safety Marvell Tell (hamstring) to play against Alabama. Tell took part in the entire practice session on Tuesday, showing no sign of injury as he ran with the No. 1 defense alongside Chris Hawkins.
– Damien Mama spent the bulk of the day with the No. 1 offense at left guard, with Chris Brown primarily going with the No. 2 group.
– The No. 1 interior defensive line for much of practice – including to start the day – had Noah Jefferson at one defensive end spot, Malik Dorton at the other defensive end position and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu at Nose – which left Rasheem Green on the sideline. Green still took plenty of reps with the No. 1 group as he rotated with Jefferson and Dorton, but it was still interesting to see.
– Cameron Smith (MIKE) and Michael Hutchings (WILL) ran with the No. 1 defense at the two inside linebacker spots, with Olajuwon Tucker (MIKE) and Quinton Powell (WILL) serving as the primary No. 2 duo. Masina also took some brief reps with the twos at WILL.
– There was plenty of 11-on-11 work pitting the No. 1 offensive and defensive units against service teams. Crowd noise was piped in during these periods.
– Max Browne and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined for the play of the day during the final 11-on-11 period, with the redshirt-junior quarterback hitting the junior wide receiver in stride down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown with Ajene Harris in coverage.
– Cornerback Iman Marshall had a solid day, breaking up a Sam Darnold pass during that same 11-on-11 period, and picking off a Browne pass intended for Darreus Rogers during early one-on-ones.
– The team got in extensive punt and punt return work during practice. Both Chris Tilbey and Reid Budrovich did a nice job punting the ball. Jackson and Jack Jones were the primary returners.
– Former Trojans players Aaron Emanuel, Brad Leggett and Scott Lockwood were among those in attendance.
– NFL scouts from the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints were also on hand.
– Hutchings stopped J. Davis for no gain.
– Porter Gustin and Hawkins stopped J. Davis after a short gain.
– Darnold hit Isaac Whitney outside for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Tucker stopped Ronald Jones after a short gain.
– Darnold tried to go deep to Whitney, but Jones broke up the pass.
– Browne hit J. Davis outside for a gain of 5 or 6 yards before Jack Jones made the stop.
– Browne hit Smith-Schuster for a 40-yard TD over Harris.
– Browne hit R. Jones outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Browne hit De’Quan Hampton over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Don Hill and Co. stopped R. Jones for no gain.
– Tell stopped James Toland after a short gain.
– Green stopped Dominic Davis after a short gain.
– Darnold tried to hit Josh Imatorbhebhe over the middle, but Marshall got a hand on the ball to break it up.
– Darnold tried to connect with Tyler Vaughns outside, but Adoree’ Jackson had tight coverage and the ball fell in complete.
– Browne hit R. Jones outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– R. Jones ran up the middle for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Browne hit Deontay Burnett outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Tyler Vaughns outside for a gain of over 20 yards.