USC Football Spring Practice: Trojans Hold First Scrimmage

Quarterback Sam Darnold prepares to take a snap during USC football's first spring scrimmage. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
Quarterback Sam Darnold prepares to take a snap during USC football's first spring scrimmage. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

The first scrimmage of USC football’s spring practice played out on Howard Jones Field on Saturday, starring a hard-hitting defensive performance.

The forecast warned of rain, but it was a bright, sunny and a near-perfect atmosphere for USC football’s first spring scrimmage at Howard Jones Field.

“One of my favorite days is the first scrimmage because you really get to tell where you are reality-wise,” head coach Clay Helton said.

If the first scrimmage of spring practice revealed truths for USC football this offseason, the Trojan defense may be a force to be reckoned with in 2017.

Taking full advantage of live tackling, USC’s defenders threw themselves around the field, punishing the offense at every chance.

“This defense came out here today to stop the run, especially the first string unit, and I thought they did a nice job,” Helton said.

The defense forced three turnovers on the day and generally held the edge over an offense dealing with inexperience and injury.

“Obviously I’m never happy with turnovers. To have three on the day, you’re happy with one side and you’re sad and mad with the other,” said Helton, though he was not surprised by some of the hiccups, which always seem to accompany the first scrimmage.

The important thing for the head coach was being able to get a read on what does and doesn’t need addressing.

“Both sides I thought were ultra-competitive,” Helton said, “It was a great day and the best thing is we came out healthy which was terrific. That’s always a good thing.”

Here’s some of the highlights from a picturesque day at Howard Jones Field:

  • Receiver Deontay Burnett and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe participated in drills before the scrimmage with yellow non-contact jerseys. Both sat out scrimmage action. Center Nico Falah and linebacker Porter Gustin also did not participate.
  • Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu started the scrimmage by intercepting a Sam Darnold pass. Marvell Tell disrupted the catch and bobbled the ball which fell right into Nwosu’s arms for the pick. The refs said it was a close call but Helton said they trust Nwosu’s call that he got it.
  • Receiver Velus Jones almost got a chance to show off his burners but Darnold overthrew the redshirt freshman when he got clear of the defense.
  • Nwosu provided the first big hit of the day as well, popping running back Ronald Jones II after he made a catch in the flat.
  • Tight end Cary Angeline made a nice catch on the sideline, but when he turned up field to run, linebacker Olajuwon Tucker stripped the ball and linebacker Tayler Katoa recovered. Angeline did extra ball security work with tight ends coach John Baxter after practice.
  • There was a sequence of more crushing blows by the defense as cornerback Iman Marshall and linebacker John Houston sandwiched receiver Michael Pittman on a slant, though he was able to hold onto the ball. Then nickel corner Ajene Harris and linebacker Cameron Smith did the same to another receiver on the other side.
  • Jones came up with a big play, catching a long pass from Darnold and holding on despite a punishing hit from safety Chris Hawkins.
  • Jones II capped the drive by driving inside for a short touchdown at the goal line.
  • Receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe showed some strength with a stiff arm on the outside, staying up until a crowd of defenders finally got him down.
  • Running back Vavae Malepeai showed nice speed getting to the edge with the second team.
  • Nwosu logged the first of his three called sacks by getting to quarterback Matt Fink, who couldn’t find an open receiver.
  • Pittman took another big hit — holding onto the ball impressively again — from Harris while Marshall wrapped him up.
  • Defensive tackle Malik Dorton got through the middle to sack quarterback Jack Sears.
  • During the field goal period, Michael Brown hit seven of eight attempts, dinking one in off the uprights. Reid Budrovich started six of six, but missed his final two attempts from around 40 yards out.
  • In the red zone period, Darnold tossed one up for Pittman in the back of the endzone, but Marshall broke up the pass. The refs threw flags for pass interference with contact on the play.
  • On the next play, Darnold went inside to tight end Tyler Petite, but Marshall again broke up the pass. The corner may have arrived early, but this time the refs let the contact go.
  • Jones II ran in his second touchdown of the day from about 10 yards out, bouncing to the outside and displaying some speed to get to the endzone before defenders could close him down.
  • Linebacker Grant Moore logged a sack against Fink.
  • A scrambling Fink floated a pass into the endzone, giving safety Jamel Cook the chance intercept his fourth pass this week.
  • The combo of Houston and defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu sacked Fink.
  • Pittman made a tough catch against Marshall on a slant.
  • Malepeai might have scored a touchdown, given space on the outside for a catch and run, but he couldn’t wrangle in the pass from Darnold, which hit his hands but skipped away.
  • For Nwosu’s second sack of the day, he ran down a scrambling Darnold from behind. The refs blew the whistle, but it’s hard to say who would have come out on top with full contact allowed.
  • Linebacker Jordan Iosefa took off fullback Reuben Peters’ helmet on a hit inside.
  • Cornerback Jalen Jones broke up a Sears’ pass intended for Tyler Vaughns in the endzone.
  • It was No. 21 on 21 crime when Cook laid a big hit on Vaughns after a short completion from Sears.
  • Nwosu wrapped up his active performance with a third sack on Darnold just as he was about to bail the pocket.
  • Fink put perfect touch on a pass in the corner of the endzone for Vaughns, who completed the TD.
  • The defensive sideline exploded when cornerback Yoofi Quansah broke up a fade intended for Vaughns in the endzone.