USC football practice notes: Defense wins live scrimmage (8/12)

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

USC Football’s 12th day of fall camp featured a live scrimmage with the defense dominating the day and kicking struggles coming into focus.

USC Football was back in action on Saturday at Howard Jones Field for a hard-fought, live scrimmage practice that left one side of the team joyous and the other looking for an upside.

“I wish we could do that about every day,” Helton said after the Trojans ran through 70 plays in the scrimmage, working on situations they’ve installed over the last two weeks including operating in the open field, backed up, in the red zone, on two-point plays and two-minute drives.

The scrimmage was intended as a reality check, and it was just that for the first team offense, which struggled up against the first team defense, which Helton called “lights out.”

“I thought they came with an attitude, really did a nice job of going against our ones and making it hard for them,” Helton said.

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The head coach credited outside linebackers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu for their “phenomenal” play on Saturday. He also praised cornerback Ajene Harris for a one-handed interception and Iman Marshall for a pick six.

“I thought Biggie [Marshall] had probably his best practice of camp,” Helton said.

That was the good news. The bad news was an “up-and-down” day for the offense.

“Obviously we have a lot of work to do,” Helton said. “I can’t wait to go in here and watch this tape, grade off of it and see where we’re at.”

News and Notes

  • Sam Darnold and the first team offense had six drives of live action. They gained one first down, thanks to a Darnold pass to Steven Mitchell, but that red zone drive ended without a score. There were three three-and-outs, a safety and an interception.
  • That interception was by far the highlight of the day. Darnold tried to lob one up for Deontay Burnett in the end zone, but the pass had too much air under it and Burnett stopped his route too short leaving Harris to leap with his arm outstretched, pulling the ball down like Odell Beckham Jr. The former wide out kept his feet and tried to run it back, but was forced out of bounds.
  • Darnold made up for it somewhat by throwing a touchdown to Mitchell on the next play.
  • With Marvell Tell sitting out the live periods, Matt Lopes worked next to Chris Hawkins at safety. Josh Falo received the majority of the first team snaps at nose tackle.
  • On offense, Mitchell took first team reps on the outside. He had been behind Burnett in the slot for most of fall camp.
  • Though Tyler Vaughns was bumped down to the second team for the scrimmage, he had a standout day. He turned a short pass from Matt Fink into a 75-yard touchdown after forcing a missed tackle and outrunning the second-team defense. Later, he caught a second touchdown from Fink on a slant at the goal line. The connection continued when Fink double-clutched and hit Vaughns for another short score.
  • Jack Sears tossed a long bomb to Velus Jones, but the play was called back as a sack because he was touched before the throw.
  • Stephen Carr provided one of the biggest plays of the scrimmage, scampering to the right and running up the sideline for 45 yards. Juliano Falaniko leaped to catch him, but even though he didn’t bring him to the ground the contact forced him out of bounds just inside the 10.
  • Vavae Malepeai finished off Carr’s drive with an impressive short yardage touchdown run, using his shoulder to plow through defenders before stretching out for the goal line.
  • Defensive end Christian Rector met running back Aca’Cedric Ware in the backfield before a swarm of defenders helped him finish off a tackle for loss.
  • Defensive lineman Malik Dorton also hit Ware behind the line of scrimmage with the second team.
  • Ware eventually made it into the end zone, taking a hand off to the left and stretching it out to the goal line.
  • The best sequence for the offense in live play came courtesy of Sears in the red zone. The freshman hit Joseph Lewis on a fade for a touchdown on the first play of his drive. He followed that up with a short toss to Josh Imatorbhebhe, who spun away from one defender and stiff armed another on his way to the end zone. A couple plays later, Sears tossed another score to Trevon Sidney.

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  • 7-on-7 Highlights:
    • Tight end Cary Angeline managed to haul in a pass with Jack Jones literally on his back. The cornerback drew a pass interference flag for coming in too early, but credit to the tight end for holding onto the ball anyways.
    • Marshall jumped a shallow sideline route intended for Mitchell for his pick six.
    • Darnold’s second drive of the period didn’t start particularly well. The quarterback tossed a long attempt for Mitchell into double-coverage, a pass that Marvell Tell nearly intercepted. On the next play, Darnold overthrew Velus Jones, who was also double covered.
    • The quarterback did manage to find Michael Pittman, who completed the catch despite pass interference by Harris.
    • Safety Ykili Ross probably should have intercepted Sears. The pass intended for Sidney hit him right on the numbers.
    • Tight end Austin Applebee almost completed a leaping one-handed grab but the ball came loose as he tried to bring it into his body.
  • Reid Budrovich took first team reps with the punt team over Chris Tilbey.
  • It was far from a banner day for USC’s kickers. Michael Brown was 2-of-6 on the day while Chase McGrath hit 1-of-3 kicks. The Trojans were working on kicks from between 35 and 45 yards, but the erratic kicking of the two players competing for a starting job in 2017 left Helton less-than-pleased. The head coach admitted after practice that while he has faith in John Baxter to get the kicking game sorted, the Trojans could be forced to be more aggressive when choosing between kicking a field goal and going for a fourth down attempt in certain situations.