USC Football Fall Camp Notes: Defense dominates sloppy Day 2

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

USC football’s defense swarmed on Day 2 of Fall Camp as sloppiness limited Saturday’s offensive performance on Howard Jones Field.

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If USC football’s first day of Fall Camp was all about the quarterbacks, then Day 2 was all about the defense.

On one level, that’s encouraging as the defense jumped all over the offense, feeding off each previous success in the 11-on-11 period until just about every play went their way.

Iman Marshall defended a deep pass from Matt Fink to Michael Pittman. Brandon Pili broke up a JT Daniels screen attempt. Christian Rector sacked the young quarterback. John Houston sacked Fink. Greg Johnson broke up a pass intended for Tyler Vaughns. The defense forced a fumble and presumptive scoop-and-score.

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It was the defensive equivalent of Oprah Winfrey’s “You get a car!” giveaway.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will come away feeling good about Day 2, but USC’s other coordinator won’t be looking at the defensive accomplishments, but the general air of sloppiness around the offense.

Head coach Clay Helton commended the energy and competitiveness of practice, but was quick to note it wasn’t “as clean as we’d want it.”

“It usually happens early in camp. You add extra install in and young people’s heads start swimming,” Helton said. “It usually happens for about a week, your blood pressure goes up and then they start learning and all of the sudden the confusion goes away and the hesitation goes away.”

While Helton hopes to see his offense settle down as Fall Camp progresses, the Trojan quarterbacks have more chaos to look forward to. The head coach declared Saturday’s 7-on-7 period, which was far more generous to the passers, the last one they would face for awhile.

“It will be more pass rush situations where they have to get comfortable in the pocket,” Helton said. “We’re going to make it as hard as we possibly can…The more we do it the better they’ll become at it. Today was just okay. We gotta get better.”

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It’s not just the quarterbacks who will need to raise their level as the heat turns up this August. The offensive line was at the root of USC’s sloppiness on Saturday, with multiple bad snaps messing with timing and resulting in sacks.

Practice standouts

  1. Ajene Harris: For the second straight practice, Harris nabbed an interception by being in the right place at the right time. He got under a Jack Sears throw which fell victim to miscommunication as the pass went inside while the receiver seemed to cut outside.
  2. Christian Rector: The defensive lineman had a sack and led a dominant defensive line performance.
  3. Aca’Cedric Ware: Though his opportunities were limited by practice contact restrictions, the senior running back looked quick and explosive running the ball in 11-on-11.

Notes and tidbits

  • USC will hold two scrimmages during Fall Camp with the first coming in a week. Another scrimmage will take place at the Coliseum the following week, then the Trojans will finish up with a mock game.
  • What does Helton want to gain from Fall Camp? The head coach singled out true team ball, with all three facets of the game able to carry their weight, as his goal for Fall Camp. That means an emphasis on special teams to excel, not just get by. He also singled out establishing the running game and eliminating turnovers as goals.
  • USC plans to use the same two-back sets they deployed last year in a bid to take advantage of “one of our stronger groups.” Helton insisted all three of Stephen Carr, Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai will see the field, regardless of who is named the starter: “They have to feed off each other.”
  • Sophomore offensive tackle Austin Jackson worked with the first team over Clayton Bradley on Saturday. Bradley had taken first team reps on Friday as they are expected to trade off while competing for the starting job.
  • Bradley worked with the second team offensive line along with left guard Austin Jackson, center Brett Neilon, right guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and right tackle Jalen McKenzie.
  • Cornerback Jonathan Lockett looks primed to return to the nickelback spot this year. He’d earned the starting job there in 2016 before a longterm hip injury took him out of the line up. He’ll have to settle for the backup role now with Harris firmly entrenched as a starter.
  • Several receivers struggled with drops on the day. Austin Applebee, Josh Falo, Velus Jones Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown each got their hands on passes they couldn’t reel in.
  • Fink completed a touchdown pass to Vaughns during 7-on-7, with the receiver coming back to catch a ball which hung up at the goal line.
  • Daniels’ most impressive throw of the day was an over-the-shoulder strike to Stephen Carr down the sideline during 7-on-7.
  • Despite his interception, Sears was arguably the most consistent quarterback on the day. He was 6-of-8 during 7-on-7. His second incompletion came via a Levi Jones pass breakup as he tried to fit a ball to Falo into a tight window.