By Johnny Curren
With USC president Max Nikias and Athletic Director Pat Haden on hand, Clay Helton led the Trojans through another practice session on Wednesday on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field. Gearing up for a tough Notre Dame team coming up on Saturday, the Trojans interim head coach said that, coming off a tumultuous past few days that included the firing of Steve Sarkisian, he’s been impressed with the way that the players have performed.
“I think one, it’s almost like a fresh start,” Helton said. “I think any time that you have a fresh start and there’s new beginnings, it’s exciting for anybody. Plus, it’s rivalry week. It’s Notre Dame week – that’s special. It’s USC vs. Notre Dame, and that’s going to provide a little juice. And I think these guys want to go out and prove something. They want to make the Trojan Family proud.”
Helton is fully embracing his role as head coach. Having handed the quarterbacks over to former tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo, he spent significant time with the defensive unit for the second consecutive day, taking a hands-on approach while working alongside Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox.
“I think, as a head coach, the whole team has to feel you at every position,” Helton said. “And I want to make sure that I’m a part of that defensive structure – they’ve got to know you care, they’ve got to know you want their best interest at heart, and they have to feel your passion for them.”
Tuesday night viewing
Helton said that the entire team, as well as the coaches and their families, gathered together on Tuesday night to watch ESPN Films’ 30 for 30: Trojan War, while also enjoying L&L Hawaiian Barbecue for dinner — maybe a little too much in his case.
“I ate too much,” Helton joked with the media.
As for the documentary, Helton came away impressed, noting one major takeaway.
“You really see how powerful SC is, and the brand of SC and how special this place is,” Helton said. “There’s no other place like it in the world, and you got to see how success is made. It’s made right here on this practice field – that’s what I took away from it. Every day they practiced was like a game, and the game became easy, and that’s what we’re trying to sell out here. You could see the competitive nature, whether it’s one-on-one pass rush, whether it’s team run yesterday, whether it’s board drill right off the start – we want it to be a game-like atmosphere, so it’s easy on Saturday.”
– Wide receiver Steven Mitchell Jr. (ankle) did not participate in practice and appears doubtful for Saturday.
“We’re trying to get him healthy, but right now he has not shown any progression,” Helton said. “There’s a good possibility he will be out.”
– After taking part in the entire practice session one day earlier, wide receiver Darreus Rogers (hamstring) got in lighter work on Wednesday.
“Darreus Rogers is coming back slowly,” Helton said. “He’s getting better with each day. We’ll continue to monitor his situation.”
– Wide receiver Isaac Whitney took a hard hit from Uchenna Nwosu and went to the sideline with what Helton said was a sore clavicle. He said that he expects him to play against Notre Dame.
– Tailback Tre Madden had another light day. Helton said that he has a little bit of a sore knee, and that he has been given a lighter workload strictly as a preventative measure.
– Helton also said that tight end Connor Spears has a nagging knee injury, and that he is day-to-day.
– Defensive lineman Claude Pelon (knee) did not participate in practice and was previously ruled out for Saturday.
News and notes
– The team practiced in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday. Crowd noise was piped in at times for the second consecutive day.
– Helton said that there was a heavy emphasis on “pass-rush, pass-protection and third downs.”
– Wide receiver Jalen Greene came up with the play of the day, leaping high and snagging a Cody Kessler pass over John Plattenburg in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown.
– On defense, Quinton Powell intercepted a Kessler pass that was intended for Tyler Petite, and then returned it for a score.
– Scouts from the Houston Texans and New York Jets were in attendance.
– A large NBC crew that included Doug Flutie was also on hand.
– There was an awkward moment midway through practice when a cameraman showed up to practice wearing a Notre Dame shirt. He eventually put a vest on that covered the shirt.
– Helton said that, in hindsight, he probably would have run the ball more in USC’s eventual 17-12 loss to Washington
– Justin Davis ran inside for a gain of around six yards before Anthony Sarao made the stop.
– Chris Hawkins came in and stopped J. Davis for no gain.
– Cody Kessler connected with Whitney outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Kessler hit Deontay Burnett outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Max Browne connected with Whitney for a gain of 12 or 13 yards before Leon McQuay III made the stop.
– Browne tried to hit De’Quan Hampton outside, but Jonathan Lockett made the stop.
– Jabari Ruffin stopped Aca’Cedric Ware for no gain.
– Kessler hit JuJu Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Delvon Simmons sacked Kessler.
– Antwaun Woods sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Robby Kolanz over the middle for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Kessler tried to connect with Kolanz outside, but Adoree’ Jackson made the stop.
– Browne hit Greene over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Browne connected with Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 10 yards before Kevon Seymour made the stop.
– Browne hit Dominic Davis outside with a quick pass, with the freshman weaving his way for a gain of close to 25 yards.
– Kessler through a pass over the middle to Taylor McNamara, with the big tight end making a really nice reaching catch for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne connected with Hampton outside for a gain of 12 or 13 yards.
– Kessler hit George Katrib over the middle for a gain of over 15 yards.
– Caleb Wilson hauled in a 50-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone on a pass from Kessler.
– Olajuwon Tucker and Nwosu combined for a sack on Kessler.
– Kessler hit Hampton outside for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Sam Darnold ran outside for a gain of six yards.
– Greg Townsend Jr. tackled James Toland Iv for a loss.
– Darnold hit Wilson outside for a gain of around 20 yards with Marvell Tell in coverage.
– Darnold ran outside and picked up over 20 yards.