By Johnny Curren
With USC’s crosstown matchup with UCLA now just three days away, the Trojans were back on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Wednesday, continuing in their preparation for the highly anticipated contest.
USC head coach Clay Helton said that there was a heavy emphasis on two specific areas during the two-hour practice session: 1) ball security and forcing turnovers, and 2) offensive third-down efficiency – the latter of which should be an interesting stat-line to follow on Saturday.
“They’re one of the best third-down efficiency defenses that we’ve faced,” Helton said. “They come right in at 32 percent, which is one of the top 3 in the league. One of the things that’s been good for us, on the other end, is that over the last month-and-a-half is we have been good at third-downs [on offense]. We’re sitting at 46 percent, and second in the league, so it ought to be a heck of a matchup. That’s a key battle of keeping drives alive, and staying on the field.”
The Trojans have been on a roll as of late, winning six consecutive games, but even if they defeat UCLA on Saturday, Helton’s squad will still need some help from Colorado and Utah in their bid for the Pac-12 South title. In fact, if they do their part, the Trojans could clinch a bid to the conference championship game as soon as this weekend if the Buffaloes lose to Washington State, and the Utes lose to Oregon.
With so much at stake, Helton admitted that while it won’t be his focus, he will be scoreboard watching on Saturday.
“I think I’ll be keeping an eye,” Helton said. “I’ll be focused on our job, but you’re only human.”
As for his own team, Helton said that he’s not worried about the possibility of the Trojans overlooking the Bruins, thanks in large part to the veteran leaders on the squad.
“The one thing that I appreciate is the older leadership of this group right now, and how they’re preparing,” Helton said. “You can see it on this practice field, how fast they’re playing and how much it means to them to finish what we’ve started. It doesn’t matter who wins or who loses on Saturday from Colorado to Utah, I know these kids are going to go out and play, because they know that this is a special game for the city and for our two universities. I have no doubt. And they’ve done it the last six weeks.”
News and notes
– Defensive tackle Josh Fatu (ankle) did not participate in practice with Helton again noting that he is “50-50 at best” to play against the Bruins on Saturday. Helton added that if Fatu does not practice on Thursday, he is almost certainly out.
– Wide receiver Deontay Burnett (knee) did not participate in practice, but Helton anticipates him returning on Thursday.
– Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (ankle) participated in the early goings of practice, and he appeared to be moving well, but he was held out of the remainder of the workout, spending time on a stationary bike.
– Cornerback Jonethan Lockett (hip) worked out with a trainer on the side for the second consecutive day.
– Porter Gustin (ankle), Ronald Jones II (knee bruise), and Iman Marshall (hamstring) all appeared to take part in the entire practice session, after having been limited on Tuesday.
– After missing Tuesday’s practice session due to illness, safety John Plattenburg was back in action.
– With Tu’ikolovatu and Fatu sidelined during the team periods, Jacob Daniel lined up at defensive tackle with the No. 1 defense for almost the entire day – alongside Rasheem Green. Christian Rector also took some reps there.
– Due to injuries, primarily along the defensive line, Helton noted that the team has been spending less time in service team periods, and more in ‘goods on goods’ periods that feature the No. 1 offense going up against the No. 2 defense, and the No. 1 defense facing off with the No. 2 offense.
– Sam Darnold started practice off on the right note, hitting JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 35-yard touchdown early in the first 11-on-11 period of the day.
– Adoree’ Jackson made a fantastic pass break-up during one 11-on-11 period, leaping high to knock away a deep Max Browne pass attempt for Josh Imatorbhebhe along the sideline.
– In the final 11-on-11 period, nickelback Ajene Harris came up with an interception on a deep pass over the middle by Browne.
– A little later freshman Vavae Malepeai broke through the middle of the line and broke loose for a long touchdown.
– For the second consecutive day former Trojans player Soma Vainuku practiced with the team, taking reps at running back with the service team and the No. 2 offense.
– Class of 2017 USC cornerback commit Wylan Free (Lynwood, Calif./Lynwood) was in attendance.
– USC athletic director Lynn Swann was also among those on hand, as were fellow former Trojans players Shaun Cody, Al Cowlings and Jim Hardy.
– Darnold hit Darreus Rogers over the middle for a gain of 12 or 13 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster for a 35-yard TD.
– Darnold hit Dominic Davis outside for a 10-yard gain.
– R. Jones ran outside for a gain of around 8 yards.
– Darnold hit Jalen Greene outside for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Daniel and others provided pressure and Browne’s pass fell incomplete.
– Browne hit Trevon Sidney over the middle for a 35-yard TD.
– Darnold hit Taylor McNamara outside for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Browne hit Vainuku outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Daniel Imatorbhebhe outside for a 10-yard gain.
– Darnold hit Greene outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Browne hit Velus Jones outside, but Marvell Tell came up and limited the play to a short gain.
– Browne tried to hit J. Imatorbhebhe along the sideline, but Jackson broke up the pass.
– Rector sacked Darnold.
– Darnold scrambled before finding Greene over the middle for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Browne threw over the middle, but Harris made the interception.
– Browne threw outside to Sidney, but Jackson broke it up.
– R. Jones ran left and picked up almost 10 yards.
– Darnold hit D. Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a gain of around 20 yards.
– Browne hit J. Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a 10-yard gain.
– Malepeai broke loose for a long TD run.