Fresh off their first defeat of the season, a focused looking Trojans squad was back out on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday, and following the full-pads session it was obvious that USC head coach Clay Helton was pleased with what he saw from his team.
“What I told the team is that it’s about us right now,” Helton said. “It’s about setting the standard for October and November, where we have been really, really good over the past two years. I was looking forward to seeing how the group came out today and it was an extreme business-like atmosphere, they had their jaw set and had one of their better practices. I wish we could play tomorrow, to be honest with you.”
The practice itself was marked by some standout play by a wide receiver corps that was boosted by the addition of Steven Mitchell (groin). Early on, Tee Martin’s group dominated the one-on-one battles versus the defensive backs. Of the over 20 reps, only three were won by the DB’s, with Tyler Vaughns opening things up with a beautiful deep reception along the sideline over Jack Jones. Deontay Burnett beat Isaiah Langley down the middle to end the period.
Vaughns also had a deep touchdown reception in a 7-on-7 period, as did tight end Josh Falo, who had a big final 11-on-11 period, hauling in four passes from Sam Darnold, including a beautiful 30-yard touchdown. Velus Jones and Michael Pittman Jr. also each had a long touchdown reception.
But not everything went the offense’s way on Tuesday. Both Dominic Davis and Ajene Harris came up with outstanding pass break-ups in that same 11-on-11 period, and a Darnold pass outside to Trevon Sidney was picked off by Olajuwon Tucker and returned for a touchdown. Darnold also missed a wide-open Vaughns in the corner of the end zone, before he ended his day by hitting Burnett over the middle for a gain of close to 15 yards.
Among those in attendance was former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, who worked with Darnold this past offseason.
Helton on injuries
“Injury-wise, we limited both Malik Dorton and Josh Fatu, who have knee sprains. We held Rasheem Green with an ankle and a shoulder. Marlon Tuipulotu we held with a back, Porter Gustin (toe/biceps) is out still, Jordan Iosefa continues to go through concussion protocol, Chuma Edoga is out with an ankle sprain, Viane [Talamaivao] is out with a pectoral injury, Stephen Carr has a foot injury and it out, Daniel Imatorbhebhe (hip) got a little bit of work today so he’s progressing, Jalen Greene is out with concussion protocol, and Greg Johnson will have (shoulder) surgery this week on Thursday. The good news is that Toa Lobendahn (skin infection) came back today, got significant work, and looked good, as well as Steven Mitchell looked good today.”
– Helton added that Talamaivao will meet with the team doctors this week, but that he believes that he will definitely be out for Saturday.
– Helton also said that Carr’s injured foot is in a boot, and that he is doubtful to play against Oregon State.
– Jamel Cook was also absent from practice due to bronchitis.
– With Edoga and Talamaivao still out, the No. 1 offensive line group featured Lobendahn at left tackle, Chris Brown at left guard, Nico Falah at center and Andrew Vorhees at right guard, while both Clayton Johnston and Austin Jackson rotated in at right tackle. Jackson also continued to see time with the No. 2 unit at left tackle.
Helton on Oregon State
“Being a young coach I grew up watching Coach [Gary] Andersen and I’ve always had so much respect for him. They are going through a lot of injuries as a football team with losing their quarterback, and [Darell] Garretson brings a little bit different dynamic as an athlete who can do zone read and things like that. We’ll see where Ryan Nall is, a big back, it looked like he had a significant injury last game so we’ll see where he’s at. If he’s out we have to prepare for Thomas Tyner, who we knew at Oregon. At receiver, I’ve been impressed with the young kid Isaiah Hodgins, it’s a big set of wideouts, 6-3 plus at all three positions. Defensively I thought they had a solid front, holding Washington to 7 points in the first half, led by their Mike linebacker Manase Hungula, he leads them in tackles.”
Tyler Vaughns had a great game. How much are you hoping that he can build off that?
“We’ve really been able to see Tyler Vaughns grow with Steven Mitchell being out the last two weeks, and with Deontay out in practice last week. Tyler really shined in the game and to see that moving forward is only going to help us, help the quarterback and the offense.”
How concerned are you about how the offense has been performing?
“There’s always roller coaster rides during a season and I look at an offense that’s scoring 35 points per game, averaging 460 yards per game, we were at 477 last year so that’s a little dip, but I think that will pick back up as we get a couple people healthy and continue to grow as an offense. What you want to do is get better and better each year, and better and better each game, and as a coach you evaluate “are we better than last year” and the answer is yes. Do we need to improve from the month of September to the month of October? Yes, there’s a lot of things to correct. There’s a lot of great players on that offense, Tee and his staff are unbelievable coaches, and I expect us to progress in the month of October.”
Is there an area on offense where you think that you can makes strides?
“I think the growth of the o-line, we had two true freshmen out there the other night, and Clayton was really making his first significant play, obviously those kids are going to get better with each and every experience. And then the growth of the wide-outs. Deontay has been a staple for us, Steven Mitchell came out of the gate really hot and I’m really excited to get him back, and then to see the emergence of Tyler. And hopefully we see some experience and knowledge gained at the tight end position, with two true freshmen out there getting better each game. At the end of the day as a coach you want to look up and see where you’re at in October and November, and hopefully you’re playing your best football at that time. We’re going to need to do that, we’re heading into the heart of the Pac-12 South schedule and you can’t lose a Pac-12 South game, we learned that last year.”