Saturday brought another physical spring ball practice at USC, with plenty of goal line and short-yardage work for the Trojans.
The injury list was again substantial, and center Andrew Milek joined the group after suffering a knee sprain during Wednesday’s practice. Luckily it does not sound as though it was a significant injury.
Drake Jackson again sat out practice, as did Briton Allen, Jayden Williams, Adonis Otey and Dorian Hewett, giving USC just three healthy scholarship cornerbacks and one nickelback.
Offensive linemen Casey Collier and Liam Douglass were in attendance and suited up. Collier had missed time while at home with family and Douglass had been sidelined with an injury. Linebackers Ralen Goforth and Tuasivi Nomura also participated, though Nomura went to the sideline with an injury late.
Nomura wasn’t the only player to head to the sideline during practice. Wide receiver Michael Jackson III looked as though he was dealing with a lower leg injury. Running back Brandon Campbell saw a trainer after a long touchdown run. And Liam Jimmons hopped off the field as well.
The group of players who sat out Saturday’s practice included linebackers Tayler Katoa, Solomon Tuliaupupu and Kaulana Makaula, tight ends Ethan Rae, Josh Falo and Jude Wolfe, wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr., safety Greg Johnson and defensive end Kobe Pepe in addition to the aforementioned group.
Goal line work
Practice finished with some spirited goal line work, where the defense dominated early but then the offense answered late.
With the first-team units out there looking to run five plays from the two-yard line, the defense took the first four.
Jamar Sekona had a tackle for loss.
Josh Jackson Jr. had a nice pass breakup on a slant by John Jackson III.
Chase Williams came up with a major stick on Keaontay Ingram. Williams met Ingram in the hole with a loud pop and brought down the big back. It was a very impressive play for Williams. Not many defenders this spring have been able to immediately stop Ingram like that.
Josh Jackson Jr. again had nice coverage to force an incompletion, this one to Drake London.
But London made the play of the day on the following snap. He fought through solid contact from Isaiah Pola-Mao at the line of scrimmage and then went sky high with a leaping, one-handed catch while fully outstretched and fading backwards before landing on the ground in the endzone with a touchdown.
The second-team groups then came in and again the defense got off to a strong start. Juliano Falaniko and Anthony Beavers recorded tackles for loss. It looked as though Jaxson Dart found K.D. Nixon for a touchdown, but it was whistled for a sack. Dart then got the offense into the endzone with touchdown passes to tight ends Sean Mahoney and Lake McRee.
Offense does well in run drills
It’s probably always worth keeping in mind that things look a little different when Drake Jackson isn’t out on the field, but the offense had a really good day moving the ball on the ground during run drills.
The offense set up at the 20-yard line going in, against the Trojans’ defensive front seven. The offense didn’t win every rep, but there were times it did whatever it wanted.
Quincy Jountti broke through a huge hole for a big gain and Matt Colombo did the same. Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr both broke touchdowns runs to the outside. Malepeai added another touchdown run behind a great block from Liam Jimmons. And Justin Dedich and Liam Douglass combined for a couple nice blocks on a good Brandon Campbell run.
Defensively, the highlights included a nice Jacob Lichtenstein play to bring down Campbell, a Sekona tackle at the line of scrimmage against Ingram, and a tackle by Tuli Tuipulotu against Campbell.
The receivers and defensive backs worked on the 2-on-2 screen game, with two receivers to the same side running a variety of different screens and matched up against two defensive backs lined up over them.
Nixon got loose for a long touchdown while going against Isaiah Pola-Mao and Xavion Alford.
Anthony Beavers was impressive on a few reps in that drill. He has no problem running through blocks from wide receivers.
In one-on-one work, London caught a ball against Pola-Mao and was able to get toward and sideline and then all the way down the field. Chris Steele had nice coverage against Nixon. Alford had a few reps with solid coverage.
Pola-Mao came back with a great read of the route and break on the ball when he intercepted a Miller Moss pass intended for Zach Wilson.
Isaac Taylor-Stuart stuck with Michael Jackson III down the field to help force an incompletion.
The play of the day in this drill came from John Jackson III, who went out and up, then went high over the cornerback to bring in a touchdown on a deep ball from Jaxson Dart.
Offensive line shuffling, Part 2
On Wednesday we saw the first major offensive line shuffling of the spring. It was more of the same on Saturday.
Here are some of the offensive line groupings that took the field, from left tackle to right tackle:
Jonah Monheim, Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons, Jalen McKenzie
Courtland Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Jimmons, McKenzie
Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Jimmons, Monheim
Casey Collier, Jason Rodriguez, Justin Dedich, Gino Quinones, McKenzie
Collier, Quinones, Dedich, Liam Douglass, Monheim
Collier, Quinones, Dedich, Douglass, McKenzie
Monheim, Vorhees, Dedich, Jimmons, McKenzie
Ford, Vorhees, Neilon, Jimmons, Monheim
Collier, Rodriguez, Dedich, Douglass, Ford
Collier, Rodriguez, Dedich, Douglass, McKenzie
Overall, it was just an okay day for the offensive line. It absolutely had its moments, but there were some stretches where the defensive line got the best of them with tackles for loss and a few sacks.
Short yardage work
The Trojans set up a third-and-one situation and ran the offense at the defense several times.
Tuipulotu started things off with a tackle for no gain.
Malepeai got the offense on the board when he was able to escape Echols in the backfield and pick up the first down.
Slovis then hit Krommenhoek for a wide-open touchdown off of play action. The defensive players on the sideline did not appreciate the offense going play action in a third-and-one situation where (for the defensive guys, evidently) the idea is to get it on the ground.
It was Drake London’s day, and the junior receiver continues to show that he might be the best offensive skill player in the conference. Not only did he have the one-handed touchdown grab, he also made a great catch on a deeper throw where he had to turn around and make the grab while backpedaling into the endzone against great coverage from Alford. He’s playing at a very high level right now.
Campbell had the run of the day when he got past the line of scrimmage by hurdling Beavers, who attempted a diving tackle, then outracing Xamarion Gordon to the endzone. Beavers got beat on this one, but it was good day overall for him. The three freshmen safeties continue to impress.
Hunter Echols intercepted Kedon Slovis after a ball looked to ricochet off what looked like both a receiver and a defensive back, then pop into the air where Echols made the grab.
Freshmen safeties Xamarion Gordon and Calen Bullock had a couple of big hits. Gordon’s game against Stephen Carr and Bullock’s was on Lake McRee. To the offensive players’ credit, both fell forward after contact and both dished it out a bit in the collision as well. Those freshmen safeties continue to work a little at corner as well, with the Trojans down so many bodies out there.
Dart led the offense down the field with a nice throw to Wilson, but the defense stiffened on the goal line with a gang tackle by Scott, Toia and Benton.
Pola-Mao and Sekona combined on a sack and Steele added another. Slovis threw the ball just after the whistle and hit London well down the field.
Miller Moss led a touchdown drive and got it started with a really pretty deep ball down the seam to Wilson. The drive was capped by a touchdown run from Matt Colombo, who followed some great blocks by Quinones and McRee.
Linebackers Danny Lockhart and Bryce Matthews both had really nice sequences during practice. Lockhart blew up a run and then made a tackle on the next play during short-yardage work. Matthews had a sack and a tackle on back-to-back plays.
Special teams work
The Trojans got some special teams work in, running some light contact kickoff coverage and return. The kickoff coverage team included Parker Lewis, Juliano Falaniko, Anthony Beavers, Raymond Scott, Hunter Echols, Bryce Matthews, Xamarion Gordon, Julien Simon, Danny Lockhart, Chase Williams and Chris Steele.