USC Football News: Fall Camp, Day 9 Practice Notes (8/13)

USC defensive back Leon McQuay III during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC defensive back Leon McQuay III during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

Day 9 of USC football Fall Camp was all about the defense, who thrived in another practice full of situational work.

USC football’s ninth day of Fall Camp ended with a raucous display from the defense, which capped off what head coach Clay Helton called “by far their best day.”

The Trojans went live for a goal line period, with the first team offense facing the defense on a series of four plays.

From the get go, the defense was pumped up. Players jumped around the back of the endzone and sprayed water bottles overhead.

Then, the defense thoroughly dominated.

“Defense won the day in that period,” Helton said after practice on Saturday.

First Justin Davis was stuffed going off tackle to the left. Then Max Browne couldn’t find his receiver going right.

Davis gained some ground up the middle on the third play but the final play saw Leon McQuay III track the running back down behind the line of scrimmage, much to his teammates delight — the ones in white jerseys at least.

Helton didn’t hold back his praise for the defense in general on Saturday, crediting them with playing fast and “assignment-sound” throughout the day.

“It was 11 men playing together and when they do that then talent takes over,” said Helton.

More from Reign of Troy

After noted struggles in 2015, the defense has undergone a transformation this offseason under defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who Helton credits with using simple concepts to help his players thrive.

“[Pendergast] believes in playing fast, trying to make things simple for our kids,” Helton said. “I really see that it’s helped several of our players, especially veterans.”

The head coach singled out McQuay as an example of a veteran who has come back to life under Pendergast’s tutelage.

“He was kind of lost for a couple of years and now he’s back out there really doing a nice job,” said Helton.

Helton also credited Pendergast for the way he applies his emphasis-on-simple philosophy, working through concepts one at a time and not moving on until the players have things down.

“He’s a great teacher. I saw it the first time he was here and you’re seeing it again now,” Helton said. “Hopefully it’ll pay off.”

Three Stars of the Day

  1. Leon McQuay III: McQuay was a visible figure among the safeties Saturday, most notably when he closed down Justin Davis for a tackle for loss on the final play of the live goal line period.
  2. Matt Lopes: The walk-on safety was back on the field and back to his usual self, making himself part of the action all over the field. He hit Ronald Jones for a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble by Aca’Cedric Ware.
  3. The defensive front: USC’s offensive line is widely considered a strength while the defensive line remains a great question mark. On Saturday, however, the defensive front, even short Stevie Tu’ikolovatu who sat our a portion of practice, was able to get the better of the offense in key moments.

From the Notebook

  • Injury Update:
    • Linebacker Quinton Powell was pulled from practice because of a neck strain.
    • Safeties Chris Hawkins and Matt Lopes were more full participants in practice. Both are coming back from hamstring injuries.
    • Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chad Wheeler were both held out again. The latter has a sore toe and ankle. The former is dealing with plantar fasciitis.
  • Cameron Smith saw more work with the ones on Saturday. He was regularly paired with fellow sophomore Osa Masina.
  • Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama served as USC’s first team guards, while Zach Banner remained at left tackle with Wheeler out. Chuma Edoga filled in on the right.
  • With Tu’ikolovatu sidelined, Khaliel Rodgers moved into the first team defensive line alongside Rasheem Green.
  • Helton said kicker Matt Boermeester has gained consistency from spring camp to fall. He is ahead of Michael Brown, who has been unable to practice this week due to a quad injury.
  • At punter, Helton said the competition remains open between Chris Tilbey and Reid Budrovich. Tilbey has a huge leg but struggles with consistency. Budrovich doesn’t hit a lot of “kill shots” but he’s plugging away with good results.
  • Special teams coach John Baxter was urging his punters to boot the ball long, but the results were mixed as both punters got a hold of some, but not enough to satisfy the coach.
  • Max Browne led the offense on a great redzone drive, making use of Deontay Burnett to get down the field then hitting DeQuan Hampton in the endzone for a score.
  • In Smith-Schuster’s absence, Hampton was a more active figure for the Trojans.
  • Sam Darnold led the offense on a scoring drive of his own, finding Cary Angeline over the middle to set up a Ronald Jones touchdown run. He later found Isaac Whitney for a touchdown in the corner of the endzone, though there was debate about whether it was a catch by NFL rules.
  • Jones and Ware both broke off long runs during the 11-on-11 period.
  • Green and John Houston, who saw more time because of Powell’s absence, both logged sacks.