USC Football Spring Camp Notes: Unstoppable pass rush shines (4/3)

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

USC Football’s pass rush thrived during Day 10 of Spring Camp on Tuesday as the Trojan quarterbacks looked to bounce back from last week’s tough outings.

Tuesday marked the beginning of the fourth week of USC Football’s 2018 Spring Camp, with the end of camp looming closer than ever.

“You blink your eyes and you’re two-thirds of the way through,” head coach Clay Helton said after practice No. 10. “I wish we had another 10 [practices] to be honest with you.”

The Trojans focused on blitz packages and two-minute work with the defense once again getting the better of the offense, for the most part.

The gap wasn’t as great as it appeared during Saturday’s scrimmage, when the quarterbacks struggled mightily. Jack Sears failed to complete a pass during the 11-on-11 segment and threw two interceptions while Matt Fink didn’t have much to write home about either.

Upon further review, Helton said the quarterbacks were looking in the right spots, but need to get the ball out more quickly and learn to throw into open windows.

The head coach was happy to see many of the issues from the scrimmage seemingly fixed up on Tuesday.

“It’s good to be able to learn from a mistake,” Helton said.

There may have been some progress on Tuesday, but it was still far from a banner day for either passer. Fink completed 5-of-12 attempts while Sears when 4-of-10 in 11-on-11 play.

Quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis attributed the QB struggles to inexperience, noting how young players often come out of the blocks flying, but get weighed down after a few weeks.

“You get to practice nine or 10 in training camp and you’ve got an entire playbook in, you will hit the wall,” Helton agreed.

The good news for Fink and Sears is USC’s coaches won’t be throwing anything new their way going forward. With the installation portion of camp complete, the focus now turns towards rehashing old concepts and correcting mistakes.

“We are nowhere near where we need to be right now,” Helton said, but there are still five Spring Camp practices and 25 more in the fall to do the work that needs to be done.

Malepeai shows off

Running back Vavae Malepeai missed the first two weeks of spring with a hamstring injury, but he’s hit the ground running since returning to full action last week.

“It was good to see him in a couple situations being set up to catch the ball out of the backfield and he did a really nice job there,” Helton said.

Malepeai caught a touchdown pass over the middle from walk-on quarterback Holden Thomas and ran well in 11-on-11 work. Though senior Aca’Cedric Ware continues to show his progress this spring as well, the redshirt sophomore isn’t wasting his chance to vie for playing time right beside him.

Gustin is unblockable

Last spring, Uchenna Nwosu’s All-American potential was on obvious display. This spring, outside linebacker Porter Gustin has produced similar omens pointing towards an All-American-level senior campaign.

“He is basically unblockable,” Helton said after one of Gustin’s brightest practices of camp.

Gustin was exceptional on Tuesday. He forced a number of hurried throws from both quarterbacks coming off the edge and would have had a devastating blindside sack on Matt Fink if it had been a live play situation.

Light comes on for Jones Jr.

This spring Helton has highlighted USC’s need to develop the wide receiving corps behind Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman. Josh Imatorbhebhe got his share of praise last week, but on Tuesday the head coach noted the progress of another Trojan receiver.

“I really think that Velus [Jones Jr.] has taken a step forward,” Helton said, singling the redshirt sophomore out as a player getting open, even if the Trojan quarterbacks have had a tough time completing downfield passes.

The difference for Jones Jr. has come with improving his route running this offseason, adding another dimension to his game beyond just speed.

“The light is on for him right now,” Helton said.

Drevno’s big picture

New running backs coach Tim Drevno’s background as an offensive line coach is already yielding positive results for the Trojans, according to Helton.

“He’s allowing our running backs to get a full scope, understanding what the offensive line is doing and why they’re doing it,” Helton said. He added that Ware told him he’s grasping more of the “total picture” when it comes to the offense, not just his read as a runner.

Drevno is also changing some of the schematics of USC’s offense. Helton pointed to how the Trojans have incorporated more under-center runs and heavy packages in order to shore up the short-yardage offense.

The difference was clear during Saturday’s scrimmage as Helton called the goal line, short-yard situations the “best part” of the day for the offense.

Notes and nuggets

  • The left tackle battle between Clayton Johnston and Austin Jackson looks like it will continue on through Fall Camp, Helton said.
  • Helton was particularly pleased with the defense after evaluating Saturday’s scrimmage. On top of no missed assignments to report, he praised the communication of both the first and second team squads.
  • Linebacker Levi Jones saw time on the outside for the first time this spring. He had been working exclusively on the inside, but had double-trained last season for both positions.
  • Cornerback Iman Marshall had a pair of pass breakups, first during Team Run and then later during 11-on-11. The second of those was a near pick six.
  • Linebacker Cameron Smith had a sack on Jack Sears. Gustin and defensive linemen Caleb Tremblay, Christian Rector and Liam Jimmons each hurried the quarterback at some point during 11-on-11, while linebackers Juliano Falaniko and Hunter Echols also added to the hurries on a stellar pass rushing day from the defense.
  • Sears ended the 11-on-11 segment with an interception by C.J. Pollard. The pass bounced off tight end Josh Falo’s fingers, allowing the safety to get underneath it for the turnover.