The Trojans continue preparations for the Stanford Cardinal on Tuesday with a practice that saw a lot of work on third-down situations on both sides of the ball.
“Today we primarily worked on what I thought was a huge point of the game the first time around, which was third-down efficiency,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “When I go back and look into the study of that first game, really our first and second-down efficiency on offense set up, really, third-and-manageable. You look at third-and-two, third-and-three, third-and-four – it allowed us to have run-pass-options. And you look up at we were 10 for 12. We played very clean football. Not a lot of penalties in that game, and it was something that we stressed today. Defensively, it was the exact opposite. We had great first-down efficiency against their offense, and it set up some third-and-longs, which helped us get them off the field – a very potent offense.
Another emphasis of practice was defending the high point passes that the Cardinal love to throw to their taller receivers and tight ends, particularly in the red zone.
“One of the biggest challenges of playing a team for the second team is just knowing personnel matchups,” Helton said. “That’s what always sticks out to me, is you know each other after that first time. You walk out there and you see JJ [Arcega-Whiteside], and that’s a large man. You know what type of physical matchup he is on fade routes. You look at the tight end bodies that they have when they’re in thirteen personnel with three tight ends out there, being able to spread you out, and the mismatches that they can cause on smaller defensive backs. That’s the biggest thing that stands out to me.”
Iman Marshall came up with an interception during a team drill by reading the fade pass and coming down with the ball.
We also saw, for the second day, in a row, another solid performance from Stephen Carr, who led the Trojans with 119 yards rushing the first time the teams met. Carr has been able to return to action in recent weeks in a limited role but these last two practices have been the most similar we’ve seen of the dynamic Carr since his foot injury. Carr had a touchdown run down the left sideline today after scoring twice yesterday.
The presence of Carr adds to an offensive arsenal that is healthy and ready to go for Sam Darnold. All four tailbacks are ready, the young receiving duo of Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman add to the veterans Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell, while Daniel Imatorbhebhe is another weapon who wasn’t available during the first meeting. And speaking of tight ends, Josh Falo caught a beautiful deep touchdown from Darnold in today’s practice.
“If you looked at the last game that we played Stanford, we were able to use all four backs,” Helton said. “They were all four healthy. And I’m looking forward to being able to do that again. Stephen [Carr] looks very well. He looks very good out here, like he’s fully back, so I expect more reps, and maybe where we were three or four weeks ago. But RoJo is running really good. I think Tee [Martin] has done a wonderful job of being in that 25-touch range for RoJo, and obviously he’s producing some results for us. So, when he needs air, we’ll put another one of those guys in. Stephen is obviously one of those options.”
As for injuries, Helton said things are status quo from where they were at yesterday and he did confirm that placekicker Chase McGrath and punter Reid Budrovich would be available.
“Chase is actually, for the first time, he’s worked two days in a row, which is good. He’s feeling a lot better. Reid today got action. He still has a sore shoulder after last week, but he should be fine for the game,” Helton said.
“Is he on his level? He’s got 1,900 yards rushing, he’s good. But is he Christian McCaffrey? I don’t know if he’s on that level.” – USC safety Chris Hawkins when asked if Bryce Love was on Christian McCaffrey’s level.