USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Coliseum Brings Out Competitive Nature

Nov 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum peristyle and Olympic torch before a NCAA football game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Southern California Trojans. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum peristyle and Olympic torch before a NCAA football game between the Arizona Wildcats and the Southern California Trojans. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

USC football’s first spring camp practice at the Coliseum brought out the competitive spirit of the Trojans. Here’s the lowdown from Practice No. 11.

In preparation for USC football’s 11th practice of spring camp, head coach Clay Helton had his players gather around him on the Coliseum turf and take stock.

“We grabbed the dirt and reminded ourselves how special this place is,” Helton said following a lively afternoon under the peristyle. “I challenged them early and reminded them that every time that we walk into this special place, there’s an attitude that we bring with it.”

Helton took the time to impart on his players the importance of the venue which has been home to 11 national championship teams, Super Bowls and the Olympics.

They responded.

“Just to see the competitive nature that our kids played with today, it makes you a happy football coach,” Helton said.

News and Notes

  • Lineman Clayton Johnston continued to get time with the first team at left tackle, mixed in with Chuma Edoga.
  • Team run featured a balanced mix of moments for both the offense and defense:
    • Matt Lopes had a big sequence with the second team defense. The safety tipped a Matt Fink pass at the line of scrimmage, allowing Ykili Ross to dive for an interception. Then he burst into the backfield for a tackle for loss on the next play.
    • Quarterback Thomas Fitts faked out the defense on a zone read and took the ball for a big gain.
    • Running back Dominic Davis ran off tackle for about a 10-yard gain.
    • The first team defense was living in the backfield as safety Chris Hawkins and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu each had a tackle for loss on running back Ronald Jones II.
    • Fullback Rueben Peters had a nifty run, cutting to the outside, but after the whistle blew during the touch period walk on cornerback Yoofi Quansah stripped the ball, prompting a celebration from his teammates.
  • Jack Jones and Ajene Harris both showed off their moves during kick return drills. Jones zoomed through the coverage team untouched then Harris cut outside, slipped back inside and took it to the house.
  • The 7-on-7 period in the redzone provided some highlights.
    • Receiver Jalen Green made a nice catch falling to the ground on a slant.
    • Nickelback Ajene Harris met Ronald Jones II at the line of scrimmage to prevent a gain.
    • Linebacker John Houston dropped an interception thrown right into his hands by Darnold.
    •  Fink found receiver Michael Pittman for an easy 15-yard gain, but then threw it behind him across the middle on what would have been another sizable pick up.
    • Receiver Velus Jones made a tough catch over the middle with nickelback Jamel Cook drapped all over him.
    • Fink floated one in the back corner of the endzone to tight end Cary Angeline, who secured the ball, but it would take video replay to determine whether or not he dragged his foot in time for the completion.
    • Quarterback Sam Darnold put the ball a little bit too far ahead of Deontay Burnett on a quick pass outside, but the receiver managed to make the grab and used his hand keep upright for a few extra yards.
    • Quarterback Jack Sears hit tight end Tyler Petite for a big gain up the seam.
    • A couple plays later, Sears found Jones just ahead of the goal line for a touchdown, or at least a gain to the one-yard line.
  • As always, USC’s 11-on-11 period was full of competition. Helton praised the defense for piling on the pressure and Darnold for getting the ball out quick.
    • Darnold hit Tyler Vaughns on a slant, but the receiver bobbled it into his chest, eliciting complaints from Jones who claimed the ball hit the ground.
    • Linebacker Cameron Smith broke up a pass intended for Angeline across the middle, which may or may not have been pass interference.
    • Running back James Toland took a pass in the flat and beat Houston to the edge to turn it up field and notch a 10-yard game.
    • With Hawkins bearing down on him, Darnold darted a pass to the sideline for Angeline to convert a first down.
    • Vaughns didn’t leave it to chance when the ball came his way later. Despite tight coverage from Jones, he caught the ball cleanly at the marker.
    • Fink used a jump pass-pump fake to freeze the defense just long enough to pump it off to tight end Austin Applebee over the middle
    • Linebacker Oluwole Betiku charged through on the next down for a sack of Fink and then repeated the feat on the ensuing play as well.
    • Facing pressure again, Fink sent a speculative pass over the middle and Applebee rewarded him by going high to make the grab despite a hit to the chest from Jamel Cook.
  • Helton set up an overtime scenario with the first team versus the second team, which sparked some fireworks to end practice.
    • On the first play, Fink took a chance long to Pittman, who made the over-the-shoulder-catch despite some jersey tugging from Jones. The twos sideline cleared to celebrate the touchdown.
    • On the two point conversion, Fink tried to tuck and run but Nwosu tagged him for the sack first.
    • The first team offense tried to return the favor with a long attempt from Darnold to Burnett on the opening play, but things didn’t work out so well. Burnett burned Cook and was wide open going into the  endzone, but the quarterback lofted it a hair too far. Burnett laid out to try to make the catch, but he couldn’t grab a secure hold of the ball before hitting the ground hard and seeing the ball bounce away. The receiver was shaken up on the play, but Helton said he checked out with trainers after practice.
    • On second down, Darnold dumped the ball out to Jones II in the flat and the running back shimmied to beat one man and was on his way to a first down gain when linebacker Jordan Iosefa punched the ball out from behind him. The defense recovered and ended practice.