With Saturday’s spring game looming at the end of the week, the physical nature of USC’s spring ball carried through Tuesday’s practice. Even in a non-full tackle day, the pads were popping and the Trojans again found a way to pit offense against defense in a competitive environment.
With practice nearing its completion, the offense and defense headed for the goal line, where three offensive players were selected to line up against three defensive players around the two yard line. A fourth defender was left unblocked behind them, and a running back held the ball in the offensive backfield and readied for the whistle.
On “go,” it was a simple three vs. four run and it was up to the offensive players to score and the defensive players to stop them.
First up was Justin Dedich, Liam Jimmons, Andrew Vorhees and Brandon Campbell for the offense against Caleb Tremblay, Jay Toia, Tuli Tuipulotu and Isaac Taylor-Stuart for the defense. After an initial stop, Campbell was able to reach into the endzone for the score.
The second drill was just about completely ruined by Drake Jackson, who lined up in the middle of the trio of defenders and mauled walk-on tight end Sean Mahoney into the backfield, then wrapped up Stephen Carr before he ever had a chance to even see the endzone.
Skill players took the next snap, with Drake London, John Jackson III, Michael Jackson III and Keaontay Ingram going up against Joshua Jackson Jr., Xamarion Gordon, Anthony Beavers Jr. and a fourth player that wasn’t spotted. The defense got the stop there and that brought on the final matchup.
Courtland Ford, Jalen McKenzie, Jonah Monheim and Vavae Malepeai took on Caleb Tremblay, Jay Toia, Tuli Tuipulotu and Tuasivi Nomura. Malepeai and Nomura met in the hole exactly how you’d draw the drill up. Malepeai fell forward and landed on the goal line, but it was tough to tell whether the ballh ad crossed it for a score. Apparently even much closer to the play it was still tough to tell because both the offense and defense celebrated as if they’d won the drill.
Short yardage and goal line are two areas the USC coaches have said they need to improve this season, and those were focal points on Tuesday. After that goal line competition, the offense then took the field facing third and short on their own side of the field. Kedon Slovis made short work of things, going play action and hitting Drake London streaking all alone for a long touchdown.
With the second teams in, Keaontay Ingram got stuffed at the line by Stanley Ta’ufo’ou and Raymond Scott. Ingram then picked up a first down on a short pass. And linebacker Bryce Matthews got the win for the defense with a tackle for loss against Brandon Campbell.
Slovis’ first team then picked up a first down on a Malepeai run.
From there, the focus shifted to the goal line, where Jaxson Dart led the second team offense to two touchdowns — the first on an Ingram run and the second on a really nice sliding grab from Mahoney, who just beat safety Calen Bullock to the ball in the back of the endzone. Dart was rolling to his right and fired a perfect strike. Dart then stayed in with the third-team offense and ran for a touchdown.
Slovis came back in with the first team and Malepeai got the corner for a touchdown. The defense got it done on the final two plays. On the first, Chris Steele and Ralen Goforth combined to stop Brandon Campbell short of the endzone. On the final play of the practice, Steele did a great job to keep position and get his head turned around against Drake London on a fade and Steele came down with a diving interception in the endzone.
In and Out
The most notable appearance on Tuesday came in the form of Bru McCoy, who attended his first practice of the spring. McCoy is unable to wear full pads at this point, but after Tuesday and Thursday practices in just a helmet, he should be available for full pads on Saturday.
Cornerback Dorian Hewett was in full pads for the first time this spring.
Defensive linemen Jacob Lichtenstein and Kobe Pepe were on the sidelines participating in rehab work. They were joined there by the regulars, in Nick Figueroa, Eli’jah Winston, Jude Wolfe, Solomon Tuliaupupu, Tayler Katoa, Adonis Otey and others. Otey was out of his walking boot on Tuesday. Liam Douglass participating in rehab work in full pads. There was no sight of defensive tackle Brandon Pili or tight end Josh Falo, who both suffered injuries last week.
They didn’t switch bodies or even uniforms, but the offense and defense did switch coaches for a bit on Tuesday.
To kick off the viewable portion of practice, the offense went to the far side of the field and the defense came to the near side — a flip of the usual practice. Defensive coaches worked the offensive players on tackling drills using the tackling sled and tackling dummies. Offensive coaches worked the defensive players through the offensive drills, including ball security after interceptions and fumble recoveries.
Head coach Clay Helton has talked about a desire to let different position groups get to know different coaches so they have an appreciation for the entire program. That happens in the weight room and off the field, but there are also benefits to working those things on the field as well.
Alex Stadthaus handled field goal duties again with Parker Lewis not in attendance. He drilled five in a row to start, ranging from 34 to 44 yards. It looked like Isaac Taylor-Stuart might get his hands on a couple, the the fourth kick hit the fingertips of a lineman before sailing through. But it was Hunter Echols who got through the line and blocked the sixth attempt, from 37 yards. Echols has had a really good spring.
Run drills took place on Brian Kennedy Field at the same time as one on ones between the receivers and defensive backs, so it’s difficult to catch all the action.
Kana’i Mauga had a nice stop and Drake Jackson quickly got into the backfield for a tackle for loss. Keaontay Ingram again showed what kind of punishing runner he can be by drilling Stanley Ta’ufo’ou as he got through the hole for some extra yards. De’jon Benton wrapped up Stephen Carr for minimal gain.
Jay Toia has quickly become a presence in the middle of the line. Some of it is out of necessity because Brandon Pili left Saturday’s practice and wasn’t available on Tuesday. But Toia has taken his game to another level since the pads came on and it looks like he might have a chance to play relatively quickly.
Drake London had a really nice grab against Xavion Alford where he went up on an out route just before the sideline to make a catch on a perfectly thrown ball from Slovis. London probably would have gotten the benefit of a defensive holding or pass interference call as well.
London came up limping following a different route. After some time with the trainer and talking to Helton, he returned to practice. USC is clearly going to be very conservative when it comes to keeping London healthy, so everybody signing off on him returning was a very good sign.
Calen Bullock made his first interception of the day when he cut underneath a receiver for the pick right at the goal line.
Erik Krommenhoek hauled in a short touchdown against coverage from Anthony Beavers.
Andrew Vorhees had a great rep against Tuli Tuipulotu.
Echols got around Jonah Monheim.
Andrew Milek did really well to hold his ground against a charge from Jay Toia.
Same OL’, same OL’
Tuesday was another practice that featured the same starting five along the offensive line, with Courtland Ford, Andrew Vorhees, Brett Neilon, Liam Jimmons and Jalen McKenzie from left to right. The second-team line had Casey Collier, Justin Dedich, Andrew Milek, Gino Quinones and Jonah Monheim from left to right.
Notable 7-on-7 plays
John Jackson III came down with an acrobatic catch when he was able to adjust to a deep ball from Kedon Slovis and come down with a leaping grab right on top of a defender. The defense stiffened after that and Slovis was forced to deliver a couple checkdowns to running backs.
Slovis remained in to throw against the second-team defense. It looked like he found Lake McRee down the field for a big gain on a really nice throw, but Briton Allen was able to swat the ball away from McRee before he could be pulled in. Allen has been pushed to the second team with Isaiah Pola-Mao shifting to the nickel safety spot, but Allen has shown some notable improvement this spring.
Slovis then left the pocket to buy time when he couldn’t find anybody open initially. K.D. Nixon broke deep on a scramble drill and Slovis tried to find him, but Calen Bullock stuck with the play and went up high for an acrobatic interception. Bullock played both ways in high school and so much of his highlight film on defense was him ranging in the secondary turning into a wide receiver to go up and high-point interceptions. This was exactly that same kind of play from Bullock.
Mo Hasan tried to find Michael Jackson III deep down the field but Jayden Williams again went up high to pull down the interception. Williams has now gotten Hasan in two practices in a row.
Jaxson Dart found Gary Bryant Jr. deep down the field as Bryant corralled the throw with one hand against coverage from Bullock. It brought out the oohs and aahs from the offensive sideline.
Bullock almost got his third interception of the day when he correctly read Dart and made a quick break on a receiver before Dart delivered. He ultimately arrived in position to pick off the pass but couldn’t quite bring it in as he, the ball and the receiver all made contact at the same time.
Miller Moss threw a really pretty pass to wide receiver Ty Shamblin on a corner route where Moss dropped the ball in the only spot he could, over the linebacker, past the dropping cornerback and in front of the safety coming over the top.
Notable 11-on-11 plays
Chris Steele got his hands on a few passes during Tuesday’s practice. He’ll be happy with the final interception, but he’d probably say he should have brought in another when he stuck with London down the field and went up for a Slovis throw. It looked like Steele got both hands on it, but couldn’t bring it in.
There was a nice run stop from Mauga, who took on a block and shed it quickly to stop Carr for little gain.
Isaiah Pola-Mao timed a blitz perfectly and got in for a sack of Slovis. Pola-Mao backed that up by making a solid open-field stop against Ingram.
Brandon Campbell wasted no time getting things going for the second-team offense when he took the first snap around 60 yards up the middle for a touchdown. It wasn’t full tackle on Tuesday, which slides thing the offense’s way, but Campbell’s performance this spring has been noteworthy. His combination of size and speed does not make him look like an early enrollee freshman.
Ta’ufo’ou then had a sack before Quincy Jountti got loose down the left side for a nice gain.
Jaxson Dart was able to showcase some of his running ability when he kept the ball and took off for a nice gain with the No. 3 offense. He then found Michael Jackson III on a pass, before Caleb Tremblay ended the drive with a tackle and a sack on back-to-back snaps.
Tuli Tuipulotu had a sack of Slovis (Slovis tried to extend the play and the throw was batted into the air and nearly intercepted by Drake Jackson).
Ralen Goforth had a solid stop of Ingram in the open field.
Brandon Campbell again picked up nice yardage when he got to the edge against the second-team defense.
Miller Moss found Ethan Rae with a short throw and Anthony Beavers was able to make a solid stop.