There was a definite bounce in the step of the Trojans during practice on Tuesday as preparations continue for the match-up with Washington State on Friday.
There was no lack of attention or letdown for those who might have once considered this a trap game, as the #16 ranked Cougars have the focus of the USC players and coaches based upon the production they’ve put up through the first part of the year.
“You’re looking at the No. 1 and No. 2 offensive efficiency for third downs in Washington State and USC,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “So, I think one of the big keys for us, and that we’ve preached is kind of the continuance of what we’ve done on defense, and that’s getting to the quarterback, whether it’s four, five or six-man rush. That pressure over the last two weeks obviously has created 10 turnovers, eight sacks and eight batted balls, and those batted balls led to two picks last week. So, a big emphasis for us today in practice.”
And that emphasis paid off yet again in this practice as Uchenna Nwosu got his hands in the air to tip a pass during team drill, and Nwosu came down with the pick as well. Iman Marshall added an interception later in the day when he stepped in front of a Jack Sears pass. You definitely get the sense that the secondary is amped up for this game, and they know what kind of quarterback is waiting for them in Luke Falk.
“His completion percentage of 77%, that speaks for itself,” said Ykili Ross. “He keeps a lot of things short and intermediate, he doesn’t go for a lot of deep balls, and we definitely don’t want to let him get deep on us. That’s something we take a lot of pride in not letting happen.”
A critical element to helping the secondary against Falk is going to be putting pressure on Falk, not an easy thing to do with a quarterback who gets rid of the ball as fast as he does. Porter Gustin didn’t practice this week so once again we will likely see a lot of Christian Rector, but this could also be a game where Oluwole Betiku is used in pure pass rush situations. Having Rasheem Green, Josh Fatu and Marlon Tuipulotu all available in the middle would also be a big help.
On the offensive side of the ball, there was still no Deontay Burnett (shoulder) although Clay Helton indicated that it looks good for him to play in the game. Yesterday it was Tyler Vaughns who had a big practice day, and today I thought both Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe looked good with the extended reps. I also liked what we saw from Josh Falo. Sidney had a touchdown catch on a deep ball from Darnold on the opening play of the team drill.
We also saw Ronald Jones get work on both practice days, and Aca’Cedric Ware was available today, in addition to Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai. It was good to see the full complement of backs out there with the run game being such an important factor to not only balance out the offense, but also to keep the ball away from the high-powered Washington State offense.
“In my mind, ball control is why today was so important, it needs to be a really good third-down efficiency day for us offensively,” Helton said. “This is a bunch that puts up a lot of plays and a lot points – 44 points a game. And we talked about it in our team meeting today that it’s one versus two in this category. And it’s probably the key to the game in my mind, keeping it away from their offense.”
Injury update from Helton
“As far as injuries go, really status-quo from what I said yesterday. There really wasn’t anything new, or additions to the injury report. RoJo [Ronald Jones II] felt a little bit better, got a little more work today, and Ced [Aca’Cedric Ware] was able to get a little bit today, where he wasn’t yesterday. Velus (Jones) has a lower body, lower leg injury. I think Deontay is going to be able to go. We’re being pretty cautious with him. I think he’ll be able to do some things tomorrow. You know, right now we’re working Trevon Sidney. We forced Josh Imatorbhebhe in there some too, so those are two gentlemen that are working there.”
More from Helton
You used a lot of dime last weekend. How effective do you think those guys were out there?
I thought it was a great addition to Clancy’s package. He’s done it in the NFL a bunch before, and now with our numbers being up, and getting into some four-wide teams, I thought it was a great addition. We were able to sneak a couple new coverages in there that I thought threw off the quarterback with an offense that had been rolling pretty good. And the key to that thing is when you’re playing that coverage the four-man rush has got to get there, and it did. And now our challenge is to do it again against an even more experienced, and really, probably a line that has three or four NFL players on it. It’s going to be a good challenge again this week for the line.
Does Luke Falk get the ball out quicker than most guys that you face?
I’ll tell you what, Luke does a good job of feeling the pockets. He’s a quick decision-maker, and if it’s there he pulls the trigger, but he’s also kind of like Sam [Darnold] in the ability to create and keep his eyes downfield. I actually made a cut-up today and showed that, with him being able to escape out of the pocket, and how he is a kid that likes to look downfield and try to find the open guy rather than run. So, he does a really good job of it. He’s dangerous outside the pocket.
Did you see Christian Rector becoming this kind of player?
He had, really, a good training camp. We always talk about making the most of your opportunities, and all of a sudden we’re in that Texas game, and Rasheem [Green] goes out, and he gets his opportunity. And you see how hard he works out here, it reminds me of Y.K. [Ykili Ross] last week. And that’s kind of what your culture to be, is guys that are preparing as starters. You want to have the mentality, ‘hey, I’m preparing as a starter because I know that my time is going to come.’ And credit to Christian. He made the most of his opportunity against Texas, and continued that at the Cal game.
Where is Daniel Imatorbhebhe in terms of his recovery?
They have a specific plan for him. We actually have a calendar mapped out, and you know, things change, you know, everybody’s body is different, but we sat down with our staff, and we sat down with Daniel, and there is a plan to hopefully within a couple weeks that he can get back. But it’s all based on how he feels. We’re never going to rush a kid back. But he is progressing, which is good. He’s moved from some under-water treadmill to now what we call the AlterG, where I think he’s at 80 or 90 percent of body weight, getting up to full speed. So, he’s getting closer. He’s progressing.