USC football practice notes: Third downs take stage on Day 3 (8/2)

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC Football’s Day 3 of fall camp focused on third downs on both sides of the ball as the Trojans continue to prep for the coming season.

Whether by coincidence or design, USC’s third day of fall camp turned attention to third downs.

“What we concentrated on today, which is a huge phase of the game for us and we were very good at it last year, is our third down packages,” head coach Clay Helton said after Wednesday’s practice on Howard Jones Field.

USC was first in the Pac-12 and 11th nationally in third down offense in 2016, while finishing 29th in the country on defense and Helton wants to see that success in those key situations continue.

“It’s a very important phase, knowing where the sticks are and knowing down and distance,” Helton said. “I thought the kids did a good job with it today.”

Defensively, Helton pointed to defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergasts’ scheme, utilizing a four-man rush and blitz packages to put pressure on opposition offenses.

On the offensive side of the ball, the head coach was pleased with the way his quarterbacks made use of the running backs as safety valves in the face of that pressure.

He noted the improvement of Ronald Jones II’s pass catching ability, as well as the addition of natural pass catchers like Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, as a major boost to the Trojans ability to take advantage of the running backs in those situations.

News and Notes

  • The Trojans were in shells and shorts for the first time this fall camp. They won’t go full pads until Friday.
  • Porter Gustin and Connor Murphy executed perfect punches to dislodge the ball during one  team drill aimed at building that skill.
  • Running backs Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr stood out during USC’s run period, the former bouncing outside and the latter slicing through the middle.
  • Tight end Cary Angeline put his impressive catching ability on display when he beat Bubba Bolden for a jump ball at the goal line during 11-on-11. The play started with quarterback Matt Fink avoiding pressure, scrambling to the outside and lobbing up the ball for his tight end. Angeline then just went up and got it over the defender.
  • Safety Marvell Tell made one of the highlight plays of practice, crossing from the middle of the field in a hurry to make an outstretched interception on Sam Darnold. The quarterback tossed his pass to a spot on the sideline, looking for Jalen Greene, but the receiver was rerouted by cornerback Jack Jones just long enough for the timing to be off. Tell hauled in the ball just before the sideline and just before Greene, who slid into the defender.
  • Receiver Deontay Burnett snagged a pass from Darnold in the same area, but it was a good thing he did so during practice and not live play. Jones would have lit him up.
  • Defensive lineman Christian Rector sacked quarterback Jack Sears.

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  • USC’s freshman class is so balance, the Trojans can field a nearly complete 22. Since camp 11-on-11 periods have featured that line up, with linebacker Grant Moore and others filling in as needed.
  • Blind longsnapper Jake Olson came in for one snap during the field goal period. Unfortunately kicker Michael Brown, who had been perfect up to that point on the day, missed the 40-yard attempt.
  • Ajene Harris, Jack Jones, Velus Jones, Greg Johnson and Vavae Malepeai took turns returning kicks during USC’s special teams portion.
  • It was undefended, but Trevon Sidney made a nifty one-handed grab on a long Sears pass.
  • Receivers and defensive backs went battled in one-on-ones on Wednesday:
    • Iman Marshall got the better of Jalen Greene on the first rep, but was beaten by Deontay Burnett on his final rep.
    • Jones stayed tight to Tyler Vaughns and won their battle.
    • Steven Mitchell beat Isaiah Langley, but dropped his pass. Later, he beat Jalen Jones, but again failed to make the catch.
    • Michael Pittman caught one on Ajene Harris, but the CB stayed with the play and forced a fumble, earning a shout out from DBs coach Ronnie Bradford.
    • Kevin Carrasco managed the same feat against Velus Jones later.
    • Burnett beat Jamel Cook in their battle.
    • Joseph Lewis bested Jalen Jones.
    • Randal Grimes beat Je’Quari Godfrey.
    • Sidney almost beat Langley, but the corner pried the ball loose before the whistle.
    • Michael Pittman made a diving catch past Harris at the front of the endzone, though Jack Jones claimed he was out of bounds. Media members closer to the action overrode him, much to Pittman’s delight. Harris later got the better of Pittman.
    • Cook got a bit too physical with Greene on one rep, so they replayed it and the wide receiver came out on top.
    • Jones nearly had an interception against Vaughns, but couldn’t haul it in.
  • In 7-on-7 Darnold tossed a would-be touchdown to Vaughns. Marshall got a touch to end the play, but in live play the receiver would have easily continued on.
  • Tell nearly had another interception on Darnold during the same period, but couldn’t quite complete the catch.
  • C.J. Pollard came out of nowhere to pick off Matt Fink on a slant.
  • Vaughns beat Marshall again on a long catch over the middle.
  • Sears found a wide open Austin Applebee for a long touchdown. The tight end was left completely alone over the top.
  • Grimes took a bit of a beating when Greg Johnson tipped a pass intended for him and Bolden slammed into his chest in the aftermath.
  • Godfrey delighted the defensive sideline when he jumped a Fink pass for a pick six.
  • Defensive lineman Marlon Tuipulotu tipped a Darnold pass at the line of scrimmage during 11-on-11. Tuipulotu later sacked Sears.
  • Sears showed off his legs by taking off outside and picking up a long first down while the Trojans practices third down situations.
  • Defensive lineman Malik Dorton came storming up the middle, rushing Darnold’s pass intended for Ronald Jones II in what looked like a blown up screen attempt.
  • Basketball star Chimezie Metu was on hand for practice wearing a Manchester United jersey.