USC Practice Report: Penalties Need Trimming, but There’s Bigger Fish to Fry


Saturday’s meeting with the Arizona State Sun Devils is just days away, so Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans are putting the finishing touches on an overall positive week of preparation.

Following Thursday’s USC practice, Sarkisian focused on all the areas the Trojans can improve as they get set to face ASU including play at quarterback, defensive line and in the eyes of the refs.

We’re Talking About Penalties

Sarkisian had plenty of things to say about penalties Thursday, but he’s not all the worried about the number racked up by the Trojans this season considering six other Pac-12 teams find themselves among the most penalized teams in the country this year.

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As the Trojan head coach pointed out, USC was flagged just three times against Boston College but still lost the game, while his team picked up double digit numbers against Stanford and Oregon State, yet won.

Against Oregon State, three false starts in a row seemed to be a fluke, but Sarkisian does say they have focused on instilling the proper technique to prevent holding calls in the defensive backfield.

USC’s defense wants to stay physical at the line and press opposing receivers and Sarkisian believes some of the defensive holding penalties lobbed at the Trojans this season can be prevented by being more focused on proper hand position when defending the pass.

Having said that Sarkisian said that there are much more important statistical advantages and disadvantages which weigh heavier on the final outcome. He would rather focus on third down efficiency, yards per play and the like when preparing for the upcoming game.

Ajene Harris Out, Steven Mitchell In

Sarkisian confirmed that freshman receiver Ajene Harris will miss the weekend with a hamstring injury but it’s unlikely Steven Mitchell will start in his place.

The redshirt freshman Mitchell will certainly play however and should expect his biggest involvement in the season to date, according to Sarkisian.

September 27, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler (6) looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Kessler Can Improve

Cody Kessler has received a good deal of praise this week for his steady play at the quarterback position, but Sarkisian points out he still has work to do.

The head coach would like to see his quarterback learn to anticipate better, especially when it comes to getting rid of the ball and avoiding sacks.

Kessler has been sacked ten times this year and while some of that is more related to breaking in a new offensive line and situation context, the redshirt junior could certainly prevent some of that lost yardage by throwing the ball earlier.

“His play has been very good, his leadership has been great, his competitiveness and all those things, but we’re always striving to get better and I think he can,” Sarkisian said.

More Activity on the Defensive Line

Sarkisian also had words for his defensive line, which he wants more activity from.

Claude Pelon, Delvon Simmons and Antwaun Woods were specifically called out as players who need to raise their levels in game to match that of Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai.

Sarkisian believes those three players are capable of doing more than just taking up space and wants to see them shed blocks and attack the runner with more intensity.

The good news is, he praised them for their efforts in practice throughout the week and believes that can extend into the game.

Good Week Doesn’t Equal Good Game

The coach was pleased with the game week as a whole, but he cautions that everything still has to get put together to get a win on Saturday.

“It was a good week of practice. As I’ve said before that doesn’t automatically mean we go out and play really good either. There’s work to be done in the next 48 hours.”

Sarkisian believes part of the good energy this week was a result of seeing the return on their investment during the bye week against Oregon State.

Still, he also expect the “prideful” group at Arizona State to come out with some fire of their own.

You can watch Sarkisian’s full post-practice presser below, via the Ripsit Blog.