By Johnny Curren
With Pac-12 South foe Arizona coming up on Saturday, the Trojans were back at work on Wednesday, taking part in a shorts, shoulder pads and helmets practice on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.
The Wildcats have yet to announce a starter at quarterback for Saturday’s contest, but as USC head coach Clay Helton noted, one thing that is certain is that both Khalil Tate and Brandon Dawkins (concussion/ribs) can both do quite a bit of damage on the ground. Not surprisingly, then, the Trojans spent plenty of time on Wednesday preparing for the threat that those quarterbacks pose in that area.
“We really worked today on a lot of the first-down efficiency and quarterback driven runs,” Helton said. “These guys are electric. I look at Dawkins and he was able to take it 79 yards on one. He’s a very explosive runner. Khalil Tate has running back skills. I mean, he is a powerful man. These guys can hurt you both ways. If you don’t fit a gap right, they can take it the distance.”
Fatu making a move?
For the second consecutive day nose tackle Josh Fatu ran with the No. 1 defense for a majority of practice – ahead of Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, a starter in each of the Trojans’ first six games this season.
Following practice Helton noted that Fatu has received an increase in reps due to his improved play as of late, but he did not go as far as to say that the Long Beach (Calif.) City College transfer has replaced Tu’ikolovatu as the starter. Instead, he explained that the two players are basically “1A and 1B” when it comes to running with the No. 1 unit, with Fatu likely to take on a larger role in third-down situations.
“He’s playing good ball,” Helton said of Fatu. “He’s one of those guys that I think the light has kind of clicked on for. You come in from junior college, you’re learning a new system, learning the speed of the game at this level, and we knew that he was a good player. He’s starting to show that in games now, especially on third downs. He’s been able to come in there for Stevie and provide some quick-twitch pass rush on third down, where I think Stevie has done a heck of a job on first and second down filling that run responsibility. So, he is a very good change-up, and he is getting more reps.”
After taking part in about half of Tuesday’s practice session, Zach Banner, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, made it through the entire practice on Wednesday.
Running with the No. 1 offense at right tackle for a majority of the day, Banner appeared to be moving well, and with USC’s matchup with Arizona fast approaching, Helton seemed pleased with where he’s at.
“He looked good,” Helton said. “He actually went through the entire practice. He’s getting a little bit back in shape. [The ankle] didn’t seem to limit him all that much today. We’ll see how it reacts tomorrow, but it was a lot better than yesterday.”
News and notes
– Among those who did not participate in practice were Justin Davis (ankle) and Jordan Simmons.
– Aca’Cedric Ware tweaked his ankle early in practice, but Helton said that he got the ankle taped and was able to finish, and that they don’t believe that it will hold him out.
– Tight end Taylor McNamara (back/quad) still appeared to be limited.
– Michael Hutchings (shoulder) got more work in than he did on Tuesday, even taking some reps with the No. 1 unit at his normal WILL linebacker position, but he still appeared to be somewhat limited. For the second consecutive day it was freshman Jordan Iosefa who got the bulk of the reps at the WILL spot alongside MIKE linebacker Cameron Smith.
– While Banner took most of the reps at right tackle with the No. 1 group, Chuma Edoga also saw some time there, as well as at left tackle.
– Damien Mama spent the bulk of the day with the No. 1 offense at left guard, but Chris Brown took some brief reps there, as well as at right guard.
– Freshman Oluwole Betiku continued to get more reps with the No. 2 defense. He’s another player whom Helton believes can provide help in third-down situations.
– Josh Imatorbhebhe and Jack Jones got into a brief scuffle during a pretty physical drill between the defensive backs and some of the receivers.
– USC athletic director Lynn Swann was in attendance, as were fellow former Trojans players Shaun Cody and Keyshawn Johnson.
– A scout from the Atlanta Falcons was also on hand.
– Sam Darnold hit Steven Mitchell Jr. outside for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Deontay Burnett over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Max Browne hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Browne hit JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Browne hit Jalen Greene over the middle for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Browne threw over the middle, but John Houston Jr. jumped up and batted the ball down.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Ronald Jones II ran right for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Greene outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Vavae Malepeai ran up the middle but was met by a host of defenders, and he appeared to fumble the ball, with Smith making the recovery.
– Rasheem Green sacked Greene.
– Greene hit Tyler Vaughns outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Liam Jimmons stopped Greene after a short gain.
– Darnold hit D. Imatorbhebhe outside for a gain of 25 yards.
– Malepeai was stopped after a short gain by Porter Gustin.
– Uchenna Nwosu stopped Greene for no gain.