It was a 70-play scrimmage for the Trojans on Saturday that featured a swarming performance from the defense, more worries for the kicking game, and standout plays from guys like Tyler Vaughns, Stephen Carr and Ajene Harris.
“Really good workout out here today,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “We basically put our kids in every situation that we’ve learned over the last two weeks from open field zone, to backed-up, to red zone, to two-point plays, to two-minute drives – just to see where they’re at, to see where the reality is.
“The reality is, right now defensively, starting out in the open field zone, I thought was lights-out. I thought they came with an attitude. They really did a nice job of going against our ones, and really making it hard for them. I thought some of the guys that stood out in that scrimmage definitely were the two ends Porter [Gustin] and Uchenna [Nwosu] I thought were phenomenal in that arena. And then also you saw a couple really nice plays – one, by Biggie [Iman Marshall]. I thought he had probably his best practice of camp. And then Ajene [Harris] came up with probably the play-of-the-day with the one-handed interception. So, overall a really nice day for our defense.
“Offensively, it was up-and-down. I thought at the beginning of practice it was kind of sloppy, and then as they got into the red zone they got flowing, and made some nice plays in the red zone. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I can’t wait to go in here and watch this tape, grade off of it and to see where we’re at.”
As noted by Helton, the first series with the 1’s was dominated by the defense and they were swarming. One of the big talking points of camp is how fast the defense has looked in the second year under Clancy Pendergast and that was certainly the case today. Porter Gustin looked good early by getting to Jalen Greene after a short pass from Sam Darnold.
The first big play of the scrimmage came from the 2nd offense when Matt Fink hit Tyler Vaughns deep for a touchdown.
Velus Jones had a catch for about 40 yards but it could have gone for more, the ball was underthrown by Jack Sears but Velus did a good job to come back for it and make the play. Stephen Carr tried to get to the outside along the left sideline but Dominic Davis stuck his nose in there nicely to stop the play to big cheers from his fellow defenders. Carr got Davis back a little bit on the next run with a stiff arm on the tackle attempt to gain extra yardage. And then it was Carr to the races down the right side with a 60-yard run, which was followed by a short touchdown run from Vavae Malepeai.
Matt Lopes came flashing in to stop Ronald Jones at the line for no gain. Christian Rector had an initial hit on Vavae but it was Oluwole Betiku who came in and finished him off. Liam Jimmons had a nice bullrush on Austin Jackson.
Next came the placekicking portion of camp and it was a struggle. For the day Michael Brown was 2-6 and Chase McGrath was 1-3, and some of those misses were from close range. Helton addressed the situation with some blunt talk after practice.
“It was not a very good outing by either guy,” Helton said. “We’ve got a lot of work to be able to do, just being honest. We’ll see where their comfort zone is, you know, whatever yard-line that is. And that may mean we may have to be a little more aggressive offensively on 4th down, going for it on 4th down. If you’ve got a 4th-and-short, a fourth-and-one to four [yards], and you’re on the 33-yard-line, that may be a decision where we go for it rather and a long field goal.
“Most of those field goals that were spotted today, Bax [john Baxter] had them from the 20 and out. So, you were looking at somewhere between 35 to 45-yard field goals today. We just wanted to see the reality of where they are in that range. They’ve been very consistent from the 20-yard-line in. We needed to get the reality of where they were. They have plenty enough leg, they’ve just got to be able to put it through the uprights, and today was not that day.”
The team focused on red zone for the remainder of the scrimmage. Darnold hit Cary Angeline on the first play but Chris Hawkins made a nice play to wrap up in the open field to hold it to a short gain. Rasheem Green slid down the line of scrimmage and tripped up RoJo.
Jack Sears hit Joseph Lewis with a touchdown pass.
Carr took a handoff to the right and the defense absolutely swarmed him, and in the process Andrew Vorhees lost his helmet. Sears hit Trevon Sidney with a touchdown.
Nwosu had a tackle for loss on RoJo, and then Jones took it into the end zone on a short run.
Aca’Cedrc Ware went up the middle on a tough run. Fink hit Velus Jones along the left sideline, Levi Jones pursued Ware and drove him out of bounds with a solid hit, and then Fink hit Vaughs with a short TD.
Darnold pitched the ball to Ware for a short gain. Sam then tried to hit Deontay in the end zone but Ajene twisted and reached up with one-hand to make a special interception, and then added a nice return.
Fink to Vaughns with another short TD.
Ware added a short TD run.
Langley had a pass break-up. Vaughns went up high across the middle to bring in a Fink pass. Carr caught a swing pass and Ykili Ross made a hard tackle.
There were several former players in attendance including Keith Rivers, Lawrence Jackson, Craig Gibson, John Mazur, Terrell Thomas, Kristopher O’Dowd, Mark Carrier, Marvin Pollard, Scott Starr, Alex Parsons and Justin Wyatt.
“Can the Thorpe winners get some love now that there are two of us?” – Mark Carrier to an athletic department official while noting the walls of the practice field that showcase the number of Heisman winners, All-Americans, etc.
Injury update from Helton
“As far as injuries go, we really came out, thank goodness, healthy in this one. Chuma [Edoga] got his toe stepped on. He should be fine. And Ced Ware came out just with an AC sprain that we don’t think is very much. So, hopefully with a couple days with non-pads coming up Sunday and Monday, he’ll be back.”
Line-ups for scrimmage
QB: Sam Darnold, Matt Fink
TB: Ronald Jones, Aca’Cedric Ware
WR: Deontay Burnett, Josh Imatorbhebhe
WR: Steven Mitchell, Tyler Vaughns
WR: Jalen Greene, Velus Jones
TE: Cary Angeline, Erik Krommenhoek
LT: Clayton Johnston, Austin Jackson
LG: Chris Brown, Jordan Austin
C: Toa Lobendahn/Nico Falah, Cole Smith
RG: Viane Talamaivao, Jacob Daniel
RT: Chuma Edoga/Nico Falah, Andrew Vorhees
DT: Rasheem Green, Malik Dorton
NT: Josh Fatu, Marlon Tuipulotu
OLB: Uchenna Nwosu, Connor Murphy
OLB: Porter Gustin, Oluwole Betiku
ILB: Cameron Smith, Jordan Iosefa
ILB: John Houston, Levi Jones
CB: Iman Marshall, Jamel Cook
CB: Jackie Jones, Isaiah Langley
CB: Ajene Harris, Ykili Ross
S: Chris Hawkins, C.J. Pollard
S: Matt Lopes, Bubba Bolden
More quotes from Helton
Does missing Daniel Imatorbhebhe show up more in a scrimmage like this than in a normal practice?
It gives is a glass half empty, glass half full. You can look at it like you’re getting basically three kids that need a lot of reps right now, you’re giving them those extra reps. But hopefully we can get Daniel back, I’m hoping by mock-game-week, two weeks out – to get some chemistry there with Sam. He’s getting close. He ran full speed movement the other day – change of direction – and came back a little sore today, but no setback. We’ll do that for the next week, and if it feels comfortable then we’ll integrate him back in and get him going. But obviously Daniel is a great player. We want him out here as soon as we can get him.
What stands out about Stephen Carr when you see him in a live setting?
It’s back-to-back scrimmages that he’s produced an explosive play, and he even had a nice play down in the red zone too. So, he’s had back-to-back scrimmages where he’s produced long runs for us and explosive plays. RoJo [Ronald Jones] has always had that capability, to have another guy like that is great. I’ll tell you the other one that stood out to me too was Vavae Malepeai. I thought from being an overall complete back, and getting down in the red zone, the two runs that he made in the red zone were phenomenal too. So, it’s good to have those two young kids really help us out.
What did you think of the two backup quarterbacks?
I’ll tell you what, Matt Fink, just standing right behind him, there was a presence about him, and I thought he took a step forward – just from his overall field-generalship. You know, he looked confident out there. He was getting on guys, especially in some of the tempo deals – getting everybody lined up, backing somebody off before he got a penalty. He’s looking a little more comfortable than a year ago to be honest with you. He’s made a lot of progression, and I really thought he had a nice day today.
With the plays that he’s made, do you think you need Tyler [Vaughns] up there with the first group?
Tyler is doing a really nice job. He’s been one of the more consistent kids out here over the last two weeks. If we were playing this Saturday, he would have to be out there and be a major contributor. I’ll be visiting with Tee [Martin] after this scrimmage, after seeing, one, how everybody produced, but also how everybody handled the system from an assignment standpoint, and just making plays. But just from an outsider looking in, standing behind it, he made a lot of plays today and looked very comfortable. He did not look like he was out of his element.
What do you think the offense had the toughest time with today?
I think a little bit, we have so many guys that we’re looking at, and just from substitution a little bit, some new guys that are out there with a big playbook right now – it’s going to help them once we dwindle down. You know, once we get into game-plan mode, and that whole bible becomes just one specific game plan. I think it’s going to help them a bunch. But it was good to see the reality today. That’s what you’ve got to do. You know, the defense is always going to be ahead in these early scrimmages just because you have so much offense, and you’ve got young kids, and you’re trying to get them to learn concepts and to be able to play fast. We’ll see who did that on tape, and who didn’t.
- Garry Paskwietz and Johnny Curren