By Johnny Curren
With the USC football awards banquet being held immediately afterwards, the Trojans took part in an up-beat practice session on Wednesday in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets as they continue to gear up for their Rose Bowl matchup with Penn State on Jan 2.
“It’s really neat to see the energy of the kids and how excited they are,” said USC head coach Clay Helton. ”We worked primarily on our third-down game plan today and got that in, as well as working some technique and fundamentals in our return game. Overall it was a great practice.”
Helton noted that another focus right now is preparing up for Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley. The talented redshirt-sophomore has thrown for 3,360 yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions this season, but having also racked up 362 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, it’s his ability to extend plays and to pick up yards with his feel that has impressed Helton most.
“It’s one of the things that I addressed in our team meeting today,” Helton said. “He kind of reminds me of Sam [Darnold] because he has great pocket presence. He doesn’t have a tell-tale sign. Usually each week we go in and we try to pinpoint exactly what a quarterback does. A lot of them will work lateral, some of them try to spin out from the backside, and you just know the blue book on them. With this one, just like Sam, it’s hard to get a tell on him because he is able to react to what’s going on with pocket presence. So we’ve got to do a wonderful job of keeping him pinned up in the pocket.”
Helton files paperwork for NFL evaluations of underclassmen
Following practice Helton also revealed that he has filed NFL paperwork for a draft evaluation of five current underclassmen on the Trojans roster – the maximum allowed. He acknowledged that Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster are two of those players set to receive an evaluation, but he wouldn’t say who the other three were.
The evaluation is just one piece of information that Helton will provide for those underclassmen considering making the jump.
“I treat them just like I would my own son,” Helton said. “What I try to do is I try to provide them with as much information as possible so that they and their families can make the best decision for them. We’ve already filed with the NFL to see exactly where their draft status would be. As well as we’ll sit down prior to Christmas and be able to say, hey, if you were to stay this would be the plan for you here.”
Jackson, who was named the 2016 Thorpe Award winner last week, said that he will consult with the coaches and his parents before reaching a decision, but that the process hasn’t even really begun at this point in time.
“I haven’t really thought about it. I’m going to wait until after the bowl game to figure out what the factors are.” Jackson said. “At the end of the day it’s about how I feel and what’s best for me.”
News and notes
– Helton said that he spoke to Lane Kiffin briefly over the phone following his hiring as the new head coach at Florida Atlantic University. It was Kiffin who originally brought Helton to USC as an assistant in 2010.
“I wished him congratulations,” Helton said. “I’m really proud for coach. You know, he gave me an opportunity to be here, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that. Plus, he taught me a lot of football in the years that he was here. An unbelievable offensive mind, and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunity that he gave me.”
– Helton revealed that after going down with a knee injury on Tuesday, a MRI revealed that freshman offensive tackle Nathan Smith has a torn ACL.
“We will go ahead and get that surgery done as quickly as possible so he has the opportunity to possibly make it back by September,” Helton said.
– Khaliel Rodgers (concussion protocol) did not participate in practice.
– After missing Tuesday’s workout due to a final exam, Quinton Powell was back in action on Wednesday.
– For the second consecutive day both Jalen Greene and Matt Fink took reps with the No. 2 offense at quarterback. Greene, again, also took plenty of snaps at wide receiver.
– Many of the younger players on the team continued to get extra work in, and it was wide receiver Tyler Vaughns who had arguably the best day of that group. He was particularly impressive in a closing one-on-one period, especially on one rep where he made a beautiful reaching grab on a slant over the middle, despite tight coverage by Jack Jones.
– During an early 11-on-11 period Ronald Jones II appeared to briefly find daylight before he ran into Zach Banner and flew to the ground in a hurry. Freshman outside linebacker Oluwole Betiku had apparently given Banner all he could handle on the play, forcing the big tackle into the rushing lane. In response, the entire defensive sideline broke out into a “Wole, Wole, Wole” cheer that mimicked the popular “Ole, Ole, Ole” soccer chant.
– Former Trojans players in attendance included Jim Hardy, John Mazur and Marquis Simmons.
– R. Jones broke loose for a big gain outside.
– Sam Darnold hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Justin Davis ran outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Darnold hit Isaac Whitney outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Cameron Smith put a big hit on Vavae Malepeai at the line to stop the run for no gain.
– Michael Hutchings stopped Malepeai for no gain.
– Fink hit Cary Angeline over the middle for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Fink hit Velus Jones over the middle for a gain of 10 yards.
– Rasheem Green sacked Fink.
– Aca’Cedric ran up the middle for a big gain.
– Darnold found Dominic Davis outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Malepeai ran for a gain of over 10 yards.
– Fink hit Vaughns outside for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Fink hit Josh Imatorbhebhe over the middle for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Darnold hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Fink hit V. Jones outside for a gain of 6 or 7 yards.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Tyler Petite along the sideline for a gain of 25 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 20 yards before Jamel Cook made the stop.
– Olajuwon Tucker stopped James Toland for no gain.
– J. Davis ran inside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Greene hit Whitney outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Deontay Burnett outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Fink hit Angeline for a 35-yard touchdown.