Thursday saw the return of full pads, a little tackling, and even some music to the USC practice field.
After an occasionally sluggish Tuesday practice, the intensity was up throughout most of Thursday’s practice, as the defense was let loose in live situations on a few occasions, and a back-and-forth goal line drill ended the day.
Solomon Tuliaupupu did not dress today.
Isaiah Pola-Mao, Talanoa Hufanga, and Greg Johnson all wore yellow non-contact jerseys, although I continue to be impressed with how much work these guys are getting while wearing the jerseys. They are taking a ton of reps during their recovery process.
Max Williams and Olaijah Griffin got in some work again. Williams was in full pads and was able to go through some drills with the cornerbacks.
The quarterbacks all took turns stepping up today, and all three put together some very impressive plays and throws.
Running back Markese Stepp continues to impress. This is a guy you do not want to have to tackle.
The defensive line was a little undermanned, so Connor Murphy was asked to slide inside. Defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a said he asked Murphy if he would be willing to slide over and Murphy said he would play wherever he was needed. Kauha’aha’a said he told Murphy to ask him any questions he had during practice and he paired him with Marlon Tuipulotu so he could have some additional help, but Kauha’aha’a said Murphy handled everything really well on his own. More on Murphy later.
After four practices without a single snapping issue, there were at least three noticeably low snaps today, including one that couldn’t be handled cleanly and was jumped on for a loss of yards.
We saw Liam Jimmons spend some time at right guard today.
The team went live tackling early on in the day and true freshman Briton Allen came up with a big hit on a running back trying to turn the corner. It was the first play of the live session and the defensive sideline was fired up.
After two more tackles for little or no yardage on run plays, Jack Sears took off and scrambled for a first down for the first positive play for the offense. There was definitely a spark in the offense when Sears took over during this drill.
Sears then hit Amon-Ra St. Brown on a quick throw, where St. Brown eluded a defender and took it all the way for a long touchdown.
Austin Jackson and Alijah Vera-Tucker combined for some nice blocking on a run by Stepp. Then Stepp did his own blocking by making a defender miss in the backfield.
Jack Sears was intercepted by Isaiah Pola-Mao during 7-on-7 work, where Pola-Mao made a nice read in the endzone.
JT Daniels then took over in 7-on-7 and had two terrific throws—one a bullet touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns on a post between defenders, and one where Josh Falo went up high in the endzone to make the catch.
Matt Fink won the session for the offense when he found Matthew Hocum for a diving touchdown grab.
Daniels tossed a pretty deep ball to St. Brown for a long touchdown.
With the ball near the goal line, Clay Helton turned the final two plays of team drills live, and the defense showed up. Marlon Tuipulotu knifed through for a tackle in the backfield on the first play, then Nick Figueroa got into the backfield for what would have been a sack on the second play.
Palaie Gaoteote had arguably the hit of the day when maybe it was supposed to be thud only, as he came across and leveled Quincy Jountti just after he’d broken through a hole in the line.
Fink hooked up with Tyler Vaughns twice. The first was a pretty play where Vaughns went up high across the middle.
Stepp finished off that drive with a short touchdown run from the goal line.
After that, the music turned on as the offense and defense settled into a goal line situation to finish practice. It looked like Fink was going to go 3-for-3 on his series, as he found Josh Falo for a touchdown, then hit Stepp, who simply bounced off a tackle and walked into the endzone. But Isaac Taylor-Stuart was able to pick up a win for the defense when he had a leaping pass deflection of a ball intended for a wide open Devon Williams in the back of the endzone. It was a terrific play from Taylor-Stuart.
Jack Sears easily found Devon Williams for a touchdown, but was sacked on the next snap and then couldn’t quite reach the endzone on a keeper, as John Houston brought him down.
JT Daniels calmly hit Amon-Ra St. Brown for a touchdown, as the defense lost him in the endzone.
Helton announced there would be one final play to determine a winner on the day, and the day ultimately went to the defense, as Connor Murphy was able to reach up and bat down a Daniels pass attempt.
The Trojans will have their first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, at 10 am.