The Trojans were back out on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones on Wednesday, wearing shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, and continuing in mock game preparations for a Western Michigan squad that they will face in just a little over a week-and-a-half.
“We really focused on an area that was very important to us last year, which was third-downs,” said USC head coach Clay Helton. “You know, I thought our group last year did a tremendous on third-downs being the No. 1 team in our league, and that’s something that sustains drives and leads to points, so we worked extremely hard on both sides of the ball with that.”
Catching everybody’s attention right from the get-go was a new face on the No. 1 offensive line unit. With regular starting right guard Viane Talamaivao having gone down on Tuesday with a foot injury that will likely keep him out until early next week, it wasn’t Jordan Austin who filled in – as he had one day prior – but instead Andrew Vorhees. The hulking 6-foot-6, 310-pound freshman has seen time at both tackle and guard in his short time on campus, and while he just recently returned to action from a back ailment, it’s apparent that he has the confidence of his head coach.
“The one thing I think that Andrew has gotten the good fortune of, if you’ll remember, he was a mid-term [enrollee], so this is actually his second camp to go through, and it’s really helped being able to double-train him both at guard at tackle,” Helton said. “It’s been advantageous for us and for him. You see his body-type and his athleticism. He can play either or, and right now he’s helping us out at guard while Viane is out.”
In terms of highlights from the two-hour session, safety Matt Lopes kicked things off in the initial 11-on-11 period by picking off a Matt Fink pass along the sideline that was intended for Vavae Malepeai. freshman tailback Stephen Carr added yet another big play to add to his collection this month, hauling in a pass otsude from Fink during a 7-on-7 period, and outracing Isaiah Langley for an 80-yard touchdown. In that same period it was another freshman making some noise a little later, this time on the defensive side of things, as safety Bubba Bolden leveled Josh Imatorbhebhe with a huge hit after he brought in a pass from Fink over the middle. To Imatorbhebhe’s credit, however, he did hold onto the ball.
Sam Darnold got in the act in the final 11-on-11 period, hitting a wide-open Cary Angeline down the seam for a long touchdown. Later on, Darnold’s former high school teammate, Jack Sears, tried to squeeze a pass in to Randal Grimes, but Iman Marshall deflected the ball into the air, and Jack Jones picked it off and returned it for a score. But Sears did end the day on a positive note, hitting Imatorbhebhe deep down the sideline for a long touchdown.
The biggest highlight play of them all, however, took place mid-way through practice when Taylor Hammond, a young Trojans fans who has been battling Leukemia for four years, took a quick pass outside from Darnold and raced down the field for a touchdown before the entire team joined him to celebrate in the end zone.
“I mean, he is the definition of ‘Fight on,’” Helton said. “He’s always wanted to have the opportunity to come out here, be around our guys, catch a ball from Sam Darnold. He was wearing No. 2 out here today, looked a little like the old No. 2 on that play, and it was a great break-up of practice for our guys, and just a neat, special moment.”
More on injuries
In addition to Talamaivao, others who did not participate in practice included Michael Pittman (ankle) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (hamstring). Daniel Imatorbhebhe (hip) participated in about half the practice session for the second consecutive day.
Field goal competition continues
With Helton and Co. still searching for their starting placekicker, Michael Brown connected on 3 of 4 attempts with a long of 38 yards on Wednesday, while Chase McGrath went 4-for-4 with a long of 42 yards.
Helton on Josh Fatu, who has been taking the bulk of the reps with the No. 1 defense at nose tackle
“He’s really shown great competitiveness, and he knows that this is his year, this is his time and he’s a senior and he’s going against some really young and talented guys in Marlon [Tuipulotu] and Brandon [Pili] and Kenny [Bigelow] coming back now and getting a little healthy, so the competition at that position is what you want to see. To have those four men right now battling, that’s a pretty good thing. And he’s really stepped to the forefront.”