By Greg Katz – WeAreSC.com
The Obvious: In front of a curious cardinal and gold general public and newly named USC athletic director, the 2016 USC Trojans football team will conclude spring practice with the annual Spring Game on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. PDT) in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: Trojans fans will get their opportunity to see just how physical a team their heroes have become under Clay Helton’s revamped coaching staff and did the O/NSO mention the redesigned offense and the new, attacking defense? And nobody will be more curious about the direction of the football team than new USC Athletic Director and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, who knows a little about winning and physical football, having played wide receiver on legendary John McKay’s 1972 USC National Champions and the vaunted Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers under Chuck Noll.
The Obvious: In reality, the USC Spring Game is the last spring practice.
The Not So Obvious: As announced by head coach Clay Helton, the Spring Game will be played out as a situational scrimmage as opposed to a traditional game or just putting the ball on the 20-yard line and seeing how far the offensive unit can drive the ball. Helton said, “Because of the limited D-line that we have, we’re going to have to control some situations. We’re going to put our offensive and defense in situationals.” That means Saturday’s scrimmage will be a series of designed and disciplined situations like goal line, red zone, and backs-to-the-wall ball placement.
The Obvious: Those new and old season ticket holders have received complimentary tickets to Saturday’s Spring Game.
The Not So Obvious: The admission to the Spring Game for the walk-up public is $10 per person with all kids 12 and under free. Coliseum gates will open at 2 p.m., and fans will be admitted through Gates 1 & 4. Parking will be available at Coliseum lots 2 through 6 for $15 beginning at noon. On-campus lots will also be available.
The Obvious: Saturday afternoon’s Spring Game from the Coliseum will be telecast live on the Pac-12 Networks (3:00 p.m. PDT).
The Not So Obvious: Calling the Pac-12 Networks action will be Guy Haberman (play-by-play), Anthony Herron (analyst), and former USC volleyball player and daughter of former NBA star Jeff Hornacek, Abby Hornacek (sidelines). The “Trojans Live” radio show will also air 3 – 5 p.m. from the field during the scrimmage on ESPN 710 with hosts Jordan Moore and John Jackson. The radio broadcast will provide fans with interviews and breakdowns on the 2016 Trojans.
The Obvious: The Los Angeles weather report for Saturday afternoon’s spring game calls for sunny with a high of 84 degrees.
The Not So Obvious: The real weather report will be whether head coach Clay Helton decides to name his 2016 starting quarterback following the spring game or wait to training camp in August. Quarterbacks Max Browne, a junior, and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold have waged quite a surprising battle through spring. Trojans fans should also take stock in whether the Trojans redesigned offense under new offensive coordinator Tee Martin and quarterback coach Tyson Helton lives up to the preseason hype of run first and pass second. Look for the Trojans offense to display a new aggressiveness and discipline – especially along the offensive line, thanks to highly respected first-year veteran offensive line coach Neil Callaway.
Trojans fans on Saturday will see whether the Trojans offense truly looks to be one that will throw to more than one receiver. Juniors JuJu Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell Jr. are explosive options. And, yes, the tight end position is again being utilized. Fans will view whether the tight ends are used extensively on Saturday. Watch for freshman Florida transfer tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe to make an impression.
On defense, Trojans fans will watch with scrutiny whether new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s unit showcases its newfound aggressiveness, especially penetrating at the line of scrimmage. There is, however, concern regarding the depth of the defensive line, so whether fans get an accurate assessment of the Front 7 remains to be seen. Fans, however, should pay attention to smallish sophomore DL Malik Dorton (6-2, 275) and freshman Christian Rector (6-5, 260), both of whom are having a fine spring under first-year DL coach Kenechi Udeze. It figures that the Trojans linebackers, led by rejuvenated seniors Michael Hutchings and Quinton Powell, will show speed and quickness and sophomore Porter Gustin has been a beast at times. And let’s not leave out senior Jabari Ruffin, another Pendergast reclamation project. As for the secondary, sophomore DB Iman “Biggie” Marshall continues to improve and appears to be thriving under Pendergast’s aggressive defensive system. Senior safety Leon McQuay lll looks like a new man with the return of Pendergast.
Another area of scrutiny is whether the Trojans kicking game looks to be effective in 2016. Right know, it’s junior Matt Boermeester handling much of the kicking responsibilities. With a live audience and TV, we’ll see whether Boermeester is affected during Saturday’s live audition.
The Obvious: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will be looking on Saturday to see that his system is working as well as it can up to this point in spring.
The Not So Obvious: As it pertains to Saturday’s Spring Game, Pendergast said, “I want to see technique on all three levels of the defense. I want to see communication. Those are really the two most critical things. And, obviously, eliminate the big plays.”
The Obvious: The USC Spring Game will provide fans with an opportunity to purchase Trojans souvenirs.
The Not So Obvious: Upon Coliseum entry, make sure to stop by Tunnel 3 to visit the USC Athletics sales table, where you can get everything from shirts to watches to “selfie sticks” for just $5!
The Obvious: One of the those Trojans corners that will draw attention during Saturday’s hitting will be sophomore Iman Marshall, who showed improvement this spring after having gone through some expected painful growing pains as a true freshman last season.
The Not So Obvious: As it pertains to Saturday’s Spring Game, Marshall told the O/NSO, “I want to see us (the defense) flying around and making plays. I want to see us complete and understand what we have learned these five weeks, just execute, and play up to our abilities. We still have a lot to learn, this is just the beginning, and see where we stand right now.”
The Obvious: Each USC Spring Game brings an opportunity for a Fan Fest.
The Not So Obvious: This Spring Game will be no exception. There will be a Fan Fest in the east end zone of the Coliseum on the field level, which will feature fun inflatables, carnival games with prizes, and other activities.
The Obvious: As mentioned, one of the areas of concern for the Trojans defense is the depth along the defensive line.
The Not So Obvious: Trojans first-year defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze has some expectations for Saturday’s spring game. Udeze said, “I expect the fans to see much better defensive line play; one that I have been accustomed to my entire life. More technically sound and being better with our hands. Better technicians for our craft. I am certain will be better.”
The Obvious: Another big winner at the USC Spring Game is the post-game player autograph session for fans on the floor of the Coliseum.
The Not So Obvious: Clay Helton’s football team will sign post-game autographs on the field, and the official USC Spring Game football schedule poster will be given out upon exiting.
The Obvious: And finally, each season brings new Coliseum bag policies and other security rules.
The Not So Obvious: The Coliseum has implemented a new clear bag policy this season. The policy limits the size and type of bags that can be brought into the Coliseum for all events. The new policy does not affect other items that fans normally bring to a game, which still can be carried in their pockets or openly in their arms. Also, all guests entering the Coliseum will walk through metal detector screening. Yep, it’s all part of the wonderful world in which we live nowadays.