By Johnny Curren
With USC’s highly anticipated matchup with Alabama just a week-and-a-half away, the Trojans were in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday afternoon, with Head Coach Clay Helton and his staff placing a special emphasis on third-down situations, turnovers and special teams play.
The biggest news coming out of the two-hour session was the almost-complete return of safety Marvell Tell to action. Getting some 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work in for the first time since injuring his hamstring over a week ago, he lined up with the No. 1 defense at times, and he was moving well.
“He really felt good,” Helton said, “so we’re really expecting him to progress and be ready for this game.”
Chad Wheeler was still sidelined due to plantar fasciitis, but Helton said that after testing his foot out earlier in the day, things are looking up for the big left tackle.
“You know, second time running on the AlterG inside, and really at 90 percent weight on his foot, [he] really had no pain from what he told me, so it looks like we’re going to be able to progress him later in the week and see where he’s at Thursday, Friday [and] Saturday,” Helton said.
Helton went on to say that he believes there is a 50-50 chance that Wheeler will play against Alabama. In his place, Chuma Edoga continued to run with the No. 1 offense at left tackle on Wednesday, with Helton noting that he has plenty of confidence in the 6-foot-4 sophomore in the event that Wheeler is unable to play when USC faces off against the Crimson Tide.
“I’ve got no issues,” Helton said. “As I remember we played the No. 3 team in the country in Utah, and Zach [Banner] and Chuma were out there, and they did a wonderful job. I have no reservations. I think Chuma is going to be a very, very talented individual. For him to do what he did last year as a true freshman, and now as a sophomore he’s even more advanced [and] stronger, he’s always had great feet, his knowledge of the game and football instincts are terrific – we’re very fortunate here.”
Graduate transfer Stevie Tu’ikolovatu has made an instant splash at USC this month, surging to the top of the depth chart at nose tackle. Allowed to speak to the media for the first time on Wednesday, he was immediately swarmed by the media following practice.
Among the topics discussed were his reasons for transferring from Utah to USC. At 25 years old, and with a wife, he revealed that football wasn’t the only factor in the equation.
“Utah is a great place. I love that place, but this place is better for my wife and I,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “For growing together, being on our own for the first time since we got married – in that aspect that’s good for us. Football, there’s a need over here, and a demand for a D-tackle, so I felt like I could fit the role. It was a perfect fit for me.”
It has also been a perfect fit for the Trojans, who appear to have found their answer at nose tackle. But Tu’ikolovatu said that even he was surprised by his meteoric rise up the depth chart in fall camp.
More than that, he’s also been taken aback by just how much he’s learned from both USC defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze, as well as defensive consultant Pete Jenkins.
“Coming from a school that is pretty good on D-linemen, I didn’t think I would learn anything else,” Tu’ikolovatu admitted, “but I’ve learned a ton since I’ve been here.”
Tu’ikolovatu is also enjoying his role in Clancy Pendergast’s defensive scheme, which he said differs greatly from how he was utilized in Utah’s system.
“The biggest difference, I think, is learning to get off blocks and make plays, because at Utah we would try to occupy all of the blockers and let our linebackers go free,” Tu’ikolovatu said. “We wouldn’t make any plays, and we would let them make all of them. But over here it’s O.K. to get off blockers and try to make plays for yourself. I think that’s pretty cool.”
News and notes
– In addition to Wheeler, Michael Brown (quad), Jamel Cook (foot) and John Plattenburg (concussion) were also sidelined due to injury.
– Damien Mama spent the bulk of the day with the No. 1 offense at left guard, although Chris Brown saw time there as well.
– Inside linebackers Cameron Smith (MIKE) and Michael Hutchings (WILL) continued to run with the No. 1 defense. Olajuwon Tucker (MIKE) and Osa Masina (WILL) went with the No. 2 group.
– The team, once again, spent extensive time in service team periods.
– On the arguable play of the day, Max Browne hit De’Quan Hampton deep for an 89-yard touchdown.
– Sam Darnold connected with Steven Mitchell Jr. for a 60-yard touchdown.
– During the final 11-on-11 period Chris Hawkins intercepted a Darnold pass deep downfield.
– Freshman outside linebacker Connor Murphy also had a highlight-reel play, leaping up high at the line to bat down a Browne pass attempt.
– During a field goal period Matt Boermeester connected on 4-of-5 attempts with a long of 45 yards. His lone miss was actually blocked. It looked like Banner was the player who got a hand on it. Reid Budrovich was also 4-of-5, with a long of 45 yards.
– USC athletic director Lynn Swann was in attendance.
– Browne went outside to Hampton, but Isaiah Langley got a hand on it and it fell incomplete.
– Browne hit Pittman for a gain of 12 or 13 yards.
– Browne hit Mitchell over the middle for a gain of 15 yards or so.
– Darnold hit Tyler Petite outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Browne hit Mitchell for a gain of 11 or 12 yards.
– Darnold hit Petite for a gain of close to 15 yards.
– Darnold hit Mitchell for a 60-yard TD.
– Browne hit Darreus Rogers over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Darnold tried to hit Jalen Greene, but Langley broke up the pass.
– Browne hit Petite down the seam for a big gain.
– Browne hit Burnett for 10 yards.
– Browne hit Mitchell outside for a gain of over 10 yards.
– Browne hit Greene outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Darnold threw outside, and Tyler Vaughns made a diving catch.
– Cameron Smith stopped James Toland for no gain.
– Darnold went back to Vaughns outside for a gain of 20 yards.
– Murphy batted down Browne’s pass outside.
– Hutchings and Co. stopped Toland for no gain.
– Hawkins picked off Darnold’s pass attempt downfield.
– Browne hit Michael Pittman outside for a gain of 15 yards to end the day.