By Johnny Curren
With the newly reclaimed Victory Bell on hand, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Wednesday morning to continue gearing up for Saturday’s Pac-12 Championship Game-clash with Stanford.
USC head coach Clay Helton said that a major focus of the day for the defense was preparing for what figures to be an extremely formidable challenge in the form of Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. The senior passer currently ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency (168.6), and he torched the Trojans defense in the previous meeting between the two teams this season, completing 18 of 23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, while also picking up 45 yards on the ground.
“I’ve been extremely impressed after watching about four days of film on Kevin Hogan, the progress that he has made as a quarterback,” Helton said. “He’s become one that is definitely going to play on Sunday. His efficiency this year has been incredible, and he’s a big key to stopping a very talented Stanford offense. Obviously we have to do a great job on first and second down, try to create some longer third-down situations than maybe we had in the first game, and really try to get to this quarterback in passing situations. That’s what we did today and really focused on that.”
The USC secondary, in particular, had its struggles in that prior head-to-head battle, which took place in Week 3 of the season. But with a number of the younger members of the group, such as Iman ‘Biggie’ Marshall and Isaiah Langley, having made strides in terms of their development since then, Helton thinks that there could be greater reason for optimism this time around.
“You’ve got to remember, we’ve had some young kids,” Helton said. “You see an Isaiah out there, you see a Biggie out there – you’re seeing some younger kids out there that are developing into better defensive backs now. So, we’re a little bit older. We’ve had 13 weeks to prepare. But, you know, they’re talented. They’re big bodies. [Austin] Hooper is a big man. [Christian] McCaffrey is a hard man to cover out of the backfield. We’ve got to challenge, and we’ve got to be able to mix up some defensive calls to kind of throw them off base too. So, I know Justin has a great plan, and I like where these kids are at, especially the confidence that they gained from last game.
Helton hears from Kiffin and Sarkisian
Helton said that both Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian reached out to him after he was hired as the Trojans’ permanent head coach this past weekend. Helton joined Kiffin’s staff in February of 2010 after spending the previous 10 season as an assistant at Memphis, and he was kept on by Sarkisian when he took the reins of the program following the 2013 season.
“Both of them have texted me and said, ‘congratulations,’” Helton said. “I would not be here today if it wasn’t for both men. They both gave me a job and brought me to the most special place in the world, so I’m always thankful for that. And not only that, but a lot of the things I believe, offensively, came from them. I took away some great things.”
News and notes
– Khaliel Rodgers remained out with a high ankle sprain. Nico Falah continued to line up with the No. 1 offense at center in his place.
– Viane Talamaivao continued to go with the No. 2 offense at center, with Chris Brown lining up with the No. 1 offense at right guard.
– Jordan Simmons continued to line up with the No. 2 offense at right guard.
– After having been limited yesterday, linebacker Osa Masina (hamstring) and safety Leon McQuay III (knee) took part in the entire practice session on Wednesday. Both went primarily with the No. 2 defense.
– Linebacker John Houston (back) and cornerback Jonathan Lockett (knee) remained sidelined. Wide receiver Isaac Whitney (clavicle) did some light work on the sideline.
– Tailbacks Tre Madden and Justin Davis both had lights days of work. Helton said that he hopes to utilize Madden — who has been hampered by a knee injury — similarly to how he was used against the Bruins.
– Adoree’ Jackson spent the vast majority of the day on defense, but did run some routes with the receivers during some drills early on. He also had a long kickoff return during a special teams period where he showed off his explosiveness, sprinting past a number of defenders.
– Steven Mitchell caught a quick pass over the middle before putting a fantastic juke on Masina that had the freshman falling to the turf, with Mitchell picking up an additional 10 yards.
– Marvell Tell came up with an interception on a deep pass into the end zone from Cody Kessler that was intended for Deontay Burnett.
– Kevon Seymour also had an interception during a late 11-on-11 period, picking off a Kessler pass over the middle of the field.
– Alex Wood appeared to have the day off, so Matt Boermeester kicked during a field goal period, connecting on all four of his attempts, with a long of 43 yards.
– Helton and a number of players rang the Victory Bell following practice.
– Kessler hit JuJu Smith-Schuster outside before Jackson made the stop after a 7 or 8 yard gain.
– Kessler hit Ronald Jones II outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Max Browne connected with Burnett over the middle for a gain of 10 yards before Quinton Powell made the stop.
– Browne hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Kessler hit Dominic Davis outside for a gain of around 8 yards before Chris Hawkins came up and put a big hit on the freshman.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone – over a leaping Jackson.
– Browne connected with Hampton outside for a 10-yard gain with Kevon Seymour in coverage.
– Greg Townsend Jr. sacked Browne.
– Kessler tried to hit Tyler Petite outside, but Olajuwon Tucker broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Mitchell over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Kessler hit Aca’Cedric Ware outside for a gain of close to 20 yards before Seymour made the stop.
– Jones ran up the middle for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Kessler hit Darreus Rogers outside for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Kessler hit Jalen Greene over the middle for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Uchenna Nwosu and a host of others stopped Ware for a loss.
– Townsend and others stopped James Toland IV for a loss.
– Nwosu batted down a Browne pass at the line.
– Browne hit Robby Kolanz outside for a gain of 15 yards.
– Don Hill sacked Browne.