By Johnny Curren
After having been challenged by USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans defense ruled the day during the team’s full-pads scrimmage on Saturday, showcasing a physical and opportunistic brand of play that produced at least five takeaways, including an interception by linebacker Michael Hutchings that was returned 90-plus yards.
“I was very impressed with our defense,” Sarkisian said following the scrimmage. “I thought they really controlled the line-of-scrimmage today. They did a good job of punching the ball out at the end of runs – not just getting people to the ground, but getting the ball out. I thought they showed a great deal of physicality.”
And while the offense did have their moments, including touchdown catches by Adoree’ Jackson, Tyler Petite and Dominic Davis – who also scored on a run as well as a kickoff return – Sarkisian was clearly unhappy with the play of the unit as a whole. Calling the play of the quarterbacks “average,” the Trojans head coach was especially disappointed in the performance of the offensive line.
“I thought we would be better up front,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve been really good the last three days, but for whatever reason, today we just weren’t. And we have to find a way as an offense, when things don’t go great in the first or second quarter of a game, to regroup and then play good football in the second half of the game or the final three quarters of the game, and that didn’t happen today.”
When asked to assess the performance of the Trojans through two weeks of fall camp, which, with classes starting up at USC on Monday, essentially came to a close on Saturday, Sarkisian didn’t mince words.
“I wish we had two more [weeks],” Sarkisian said. “We need to get better.”
Greg Townsend Jr. stands out
Among the more disruptive members of the defense on Saturday was defensive end Greg Townsend Jr., who compiled at least one sack and was in the offensive backfield throughout the day. A fifth-year senior who has battled through more than his fair share of injuries during his time at USC, he’s quietly put together a very solid camp, thriving over the last week with the No. 1 defense in place of the injured Claude Pelon (knee).
“Greg has been very explosive,” Sarkisian said. “What I like about Greg is that he’s different than some of our defensive tackles. We have a lot of big guys that are physical and that are strong. Greg has more quickness, he’s got more suddenness, he’s got more pass-rush ability than maybe some of our other guys, and I think it shows. It showed today.”
Dominic Davis making a positive impression
While the defense undoubtedly dominated the scrimmage, one of the lone bright spots for the offense was the play of Davis and the other two freshman tailbacks on the roster, Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware.
With Justin Davis sidelined with a rib contusion, and Tre Madden getting most of the day off, all three of the first-year ball-carriers flashed at times, although it was Dominic Davis who made the biggest statement with his play.
Beginning practice with a length-of-the-field kickoff return for a touchdown that showcased his game-breaking speed, the Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany product also took a quick Cody Kessler pass outside for a 13-yard touchdown, and then scored on a three-yard run up the gut.
“He’s an electric guy,” Sarkisian said. “When he gets to the edge he can create plays with his legs, with his speed. I like him because he’s tough. He puts his nose in there. This scrimmage, to me, was about finding out who’s going to play when it’s time to play, and I think 16 showed up today and said, ‘I’m capable of playing football here at USC.’”
– Sarkisian did not address the issue of injuries on Saturday, but in addition to Justin Davis (rib contusion) and Claude Pelon (knee), among those who did not participate in the scrimmage were Lamar Dawson (ribs), Rasheem Green (knee), Damien Mama (undisclosed), Jordan Simmons (knee) and Chad Wheeler, who was hit in the head with a medicine ball on Thursday.
– Wide receiver Steven Mitchell (ankle) took part in individual drills on Saturday, but he did not appear to participate in the scrimmage.
– After sitting out practice on Friday, tight end Connor Spears returned on Saturday and took extensive reps with the ones. Linebacker Quinton Powell (concussion) also returned and participated in the scrimmage.
– Cornerback Jonathan Lockett went to the sideline late in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his elbow.
News and notes
– The scrimmage at USC on Saturday featured only No. 1 and No. 2 team players, so quarterback Sam Darnold did not take any reps.
– The first-team offense at the beginning of the day consisted of Cody Kessler at QB, Madden at TB, JuJu Smith-Schuster at WR, Darreus Rogers at WR, Adoree’ Jackson at WR, Taylor McNamara at TE, Toa Lobendan at LT, Chris Brown at LG, Max Tuerk at C, Viane Talamaivao at RG, and Zach Banner at RT. Chuma Edoga also took some reps with the No. 1 offense at RT.
– The first-team defense consisted of Antwaun Woods at NT, Townsend at DE, Delvon Simmons at DE, Scott Felix at RE, Su’a Cravens at SAM, Cameron Smith at MIKE, Anthony Sarao at WILL, Kevon Seymour at LCB, Iman Marshall at RCB, Leon McQuay II at S and Chris Hawkins at S.
– It should be noted that there was a ton of substituting that took place on defense, with players like Jonathan Lockett and Porter Gustin taking plenty of reps with the ones.
– Freshman linebacker Osa Masina had what was likely his best day of practice so far. He broke up a deep pass to Tyler Petite, and later had back-to-back tackles for loss.
– Marshall also had a productive day, forcing a fumble and recovering a fumble.
– Jackson, who had been unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball this week, wasn’t nearly as effective on Saturday.
– Alex Wood went 1 for 2 on his field goal attempts during the scrimmage, while going 3 for 3 during a field goal period. Wyatt Schmidt went 2 for 2 during that field goal period. Matt Boermeester connected on his lone PAT attempt on Saturday.
– Jackson and Christian Tober returned punts with the punt return team. Tober had a nice return for around 25 yards.
– There were a number of former Trojans players on hand on Saturday including Kevin Arbet, Chris Claiborne, Mike Lamb, Brad Leggett, Todd Marinovich, Gary Wellman and Matt Willig.
– A number of recruits were also in attendance, including USC-commits Tyler Vaughns (2016) and Thomas Graham (2017), and well as Class of 2016 wide receiver target Theo Howard, as well as athlete Jackie Jones.
– Kessler tried to hit Smith-Schuster outside, but Seymour deflected the pass.
– Kenny Bigelow tackled Jones for no gain.
– Max Browne tried to connect with De’Quan Hampton over the middle, but Lockett broke up the pass.
– Woods forced Madden to fumble at the line of scrimmage, and Marshall recovered it.
– Browne went deep to Petite, but Masina was there to break up the play.
– Petite made a leaping grab over the middle for 10 yards on a pass from Browne.
– Christian Rector and a host of others stopped D. Davis for no gain.
– D. Davis darted outside for a gain of seven or eight yards.
– Browne connected with Isaac Whitney outside for a pickup of 10 yards.
– Browne connected with Petite outside for a 10-yard TD.
– Kessler through outside to Jackson, but Seymour was there to drop him for a loss.
– Jones picked up almost 10 yards after a nice cut before Powell made the stop.
– Cody Temple tackled Ware for a loss.
– Gustin sacked Browne for a safety.
– Kessler hit Jackson outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Masina tackled D. Davis for a loss.
– Masina tackled D. Davis for a loss.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster for a gain of 10 yards.
– Lockett tackled Ware for a loss.
– Browne hit Spears along the sideline for a 30-yard-plus gain before Don Hill made the stop.
– Browne hit Whitney outside with a quick pass, but Marshall forced the fumble and John Plattenburg recovered.
– Townsend Jr. sacked Kessler
– Townsend tackled Jones for a loss.
– Browne connected with Tober outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Kessler swung a pass – which was actually a lateral – out to Jackson that fell to the ground, with Marvell Tell jumping on it for the fumble recovery.
– Kessler hit Rogers over the middle for a gain of eight or nine yards before Lockett made the stop.
– Ware ran for a gain of six or seven yards before Gustin made the stop.
– Ware picked up 10 yards up the middle before McQuay made the stop.
– Hutchings picks off a Browne pass outside and returns it over 90 yards before Hampton tackled him at the one.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for 10 yards.
– Kessler connected with Jackson over the middle for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Jones broke a run outside for a gain of over 20 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit Smith-Schuster over the middle but Hutchings broke up the play.
– D. Davis took a handoff and bounced outside for a gain of almost 15 yards before Hawkins made the stop.
– Kessler hit D. Davis outside for a 13-yard TD.
– Browne threw a quick pass outside to Tober, but Tell tackled him for no gain.
– Ware picked up six yards.
– Browne hit Hampton outside for close to 10 yards.
– McQuay forced Vainuku to fumble and the defense recvers.
– Davis ran up the middle for a three-yard TD.
– Woods and a host of others stopped Vainuku after a short gain.
– Uchenna Nwosu tackled D. Davis for a big loss.
– Hawkins came in and laid the hit of the day on Ware, dropping the freshman for a loss.