Emphasis on turning up pressure defensively and negating pressure offensively strengthens both sides during USC football spring camp in 2017.
Throughout his USC football coaching tenure, Clay Helton has preached an “Iron Sharpens Iron” philosophy. It feeds into every aspect of the Trojans’ practice model, with the first team defense facing the first team offense for the majority of each session.
Thursday offered yet another example of how that mentality can pay off.
“We spent one period on nothing but pressures because I wanted to see how we would handle it both offensively and defensively,” Helton said.
A situation which might play out as a zero-sum game in another context, instead resulted in a win-win.
“I was impressed with the aggressiveness of the defense.” Helton said. “I also was very impressed by the starting quarterback, how he got the ball out on time and didn’t take sacks.”
Sam Darnold proved himself an elusive figure during his first year as a starter, but this spring his progression as a quarterback has allowed him to rely less on his feet to negate pressure.
“He found where the pressure was coming to, re-slid a couple protections, knew where he was hot and got the ball out to the correct guy,” Helton said.
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It wasn’t always an equally-matched battle. Outside linebacker Oluwole Betiku darted into the backfield for sacks on consecutive plays against quarterback Matt Fink during the period.
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That’s the kind of pressure the Trojan front has generated this spring with deadly pass rushing options coming off the edge like Uchenna Nwosu, Porter Gustin and Betiku. The trio is playing faster than ever because of their greater understanding of the scheme in Year 2.
“When No. 42’s on one side and No. 99’s on the other, that’s hard for tackles because of the amount of speed that’s coming off the edge,” Helton said.
It’s tough on the Trojan tackles and it’s tough on the Trojan quarterbacks, but that’s the key to “Iron Sharpens Iron.” It has to be hard on both sides — with pass rushers who can test the quarterback and quarterbacks who can test the defense by handling the rush.
“[Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has] been mixing it up. He’s been making it really hard on us but we love the challenge,” Darnold said. “We look at the film every single day and try to correct mistakes that we make in terms of the offensive line and in terms of me being able to correct it.”
Speaking of correcting it. Following the two sacks, Fink stared down the pressure and got off a pass just in time to tight end Austin Applybee for a big gain up the middle.
As Helton said, “It was great work on both sides of the ball.”