USC Football Practice Notes: Stephen Carr returns to action (10/31)

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images /

Running back Stephen Carr was back in action after four weeks on the sidelines, plus more news from USC Football practice on Tuesday.

It was a long time coming, but freshman running back Stephen Carr finally got a shot to practice on Tuesday, ahead of USC’s pivotal Pac-12 South matchup with Arizona.

Carr missed four weeks because of a foot injury he suffered at the end of September against Washington State. Last week he was back on the field running for the first time on the injury. This week, he’s back in the mix with the team.

In fact, he was healthy enough to catch a short pass during the 7-on-7 period and pull a spin move on a defender. The question now is whether he’ll be well enough on Wednesday to continue his progression towards the weekend.

“He looked good today. I don’t know how he’ll feel in the morning being the first day that he’s done as much as he did today,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “Hopefully barring any kind of setback, we’ll have him.”

While both head coach Clay Helton and Martin took more of a wait-and-see approach for the running back, Carr himself was bullish about his chances to play on Saturday.

“I think I can handle whatever they give me,” Carr said after practice.

The Trojans will certainly hope Carr can make it through the week without any trouble. Though the Trojans boast strong running back depth, few backs possess the skillset of the former five-star talent.

“Early in the season he was so dynamic, not only as a runner but what he was able to do catching the ball,” Helton said. That’s an element USC could use as they ready to face a high-powered Arizona offense.

Tackling the problem

Tackling was a problem against Notre Dame, but the Trojans turned that problem into a strength against ASU.

“I thought we very much improved last week, especially out in space,” Helton said. “Definitely a step forward from Notre Dame to Arizona State.”

The coaches reinforced tackling technique ahead of the trip to Tempe, reminding players of the importance of wrapping up and running you feet through the tackle, Helton said. He also noted the way USC gang tackled and kept their rush lanes against the Sun Devils.

“I thought our pursuit was excellent last game,” he said. “You saw a lot of guys around the quarterback.”

To tempo or not to tempo

The Trojans picked up the pace at times against ASU, prompting some questions about why USC doesn’t use tempo more often.

Quarterback Sam Darnold noted the effectiveness of the strategy, especially as the opposing defense gets tired, but don’t expect to see uptempo play to become a hallmark of the Trojan offense.

“It’s tough sometimes because myself and the coaches want to see what they’re doing defensively,” Darnold said.

Ideally, the Trojans take the time to examine the opposing defense early in the game before opening things up with pace.

“It’s one of those things that you do when you feel them start to get tired and push the pace a little bit,” Darnold said.

Turnover turnaround

For the first time in 2017, USC committed just one turnover in a game. That was a major shift for the Trojans, who had committed three turnovers in each of the previous three games. The scoreboard reflected the improvement.

“We’ve been saying it all year, when we don’t do that, we’re a really good offense that can score a lot of points and we got a chance to see that on Saturday,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said.

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Darnold, whose fumble on a fourth down sack was the lone turnover of the night, spoke about working to keep to hands on the ball in the pocket to avoid more giveaways. At the same time, he acknowledged the reality of the turnover situation.

“I hate to say it but when I’m trying to scramble, making a play and someone comes from behind and strips the ball, it’s just part of the game and you’ve got to move on,” he said.

The key is keeping that example singular.

The look on his face

Martin had a feeling Ronald Jones II would have a memorable night in Tempe. He could see it on the running back’s face.

“He had a look on his face on Saturday morning.” Martin said. “That’s that look that he usually has when he goes off. He had it on his mind to have a big game and he did well.”

With 216 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first Trojan to have two runs of longer than 60 yards in a game since Reggie Bush, Jones II probably did better than well.

The human highlight reel

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Jones II wasn’t the only Trojan who dazzled on Saturday. Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns put in a career display with six catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns.

Vaughns’ highlights didn’t end on the weekend either. Many of the redshirt freshman’s most impressive catches of the season have come on the practice field, where he has delivered some truly spectacular grabs.

On Tuesday, that trend continued as Vaughns provided the play of the day once again.

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Vaughns was going one-on-one against cornerback Isaiah Langley, who had the inside position when Darnold put up a downfield ball. The defender had every advantage in picking the pass off but the receiver adjusted, leaping over the back and across to snatch the ball out of the air, coming down with it safely tucked in his arms.