USC Football Fall Camp Notes: Matt Fink shines on Day 11

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

On Day 11 of USC football Fall Camp, the onus was on players to cope without coaching intervention and Matt Fink stepped up to the plate.

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At various times over USC football Fall Camp, JT Daniels and Jack Sears have drawn headlines for their play. On Wednesday, it was Matt Fink’s turn to show his worth.

The Trojans emphasized third down situations on Day 11, particularly with crowd noise looking to simulate the hostile environments USC will find itself in during early road tests.

Along with getting players used to their ears being drilled by jeers, executing silent counts and other strategic measures, the noise is an opportunity for head coach Clay Helton to get a look at the squad without a safety blanket. Crowd noise means no intervention from coaches. They’re on their own.

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“It’s so hard not to help when you get that play signal in and you see a guy not aligned perfectly,” Helton said. “We also have got to be able to see the reality of who’s doing things right and who’s not quite there yet.”

That reality check is possible because USC’s playbook is just about completely installed. Now the teaching gives way to observing.

On Wednesday, Fink gave coaches something to observe.

The quarterback had his best day of camp, going 12-of-15 on the day with one touchdown, no interceptions and no sacks. That’s never going to match the flash of Daniels highlight outing at the Coliseum, but that’s not Fink’s style. He’s trying to prove to coaches that he can be the steady, reliable option who will keep USC’s offense moving.

His performance in the third down 11-on-11 period was near perfect.

“Our goal is to be 50 percent and we were 7-for-8, so I was really happy with his performance today,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said.

On two series facing third-and-four, then six, eight and 10, Fink converted first downs with cool finesse. He connected with running back Vavae Malepeai on two gains, also finding tight end Tyler Petite and running back Stephen Carr to pick up shorter yardage. He then worked the middle of the field with Tyler Vaughns and Randal Grimes facing longer yardage requirements before setting up a Velus Jones Jr. catch-and-run opportunity to convert his final rep

The only play which didn’t result in a first down was a third-and-six when he threw the ball away.

That also impressed Martin, who praised his decision-making on the day.

It wasn’t so great of a day for Sears.

The redshirt freshman put in what was probably his worst performance of camp on Wednesday. After a week and a half of efficient performances, things took a turn for the worst as struggled to command the offense.

Sears went 4-of-13 with three interceptions courtesy of Marvell Tell and Greg Johnson in 1-on-1s and Jonathan Lockett in 11-on-11. His third down segment didn’t look any prettier. He was sacked once and unofficially didn’t convert any first downs.

Daniels was the odd-man out in the QB rotation, so his opportunities were more limited than the other two. He still put in an encouraging, but routine performance. He was 7-of-8, hitting Vaughns for a long touchdown in 1-on-1s and appearing to convert 2-of-4 third downs.

Practice Standouts

  1. Matt Fink: It was far and away Fink’s best showing of Fall Camp from start to finish.
  2. Assorted defensive backs: Marvell Tell, Greg Johnson, Isaiah Langley and Jonathan Lockett logged interceptions, CJ Pollard made an impressive pass breakup at the goal line and Ajene Harris had two sacks.
  3. Tyler Vaughns: Vaughns won all three of his battles with Iman Marshall in 1-on-1s, catching a touchdown in the period while also proving a vital first down receptions in the third down period and picking up a chunk of yards in the final 11-on-11.

Notes and Tidbits

  • 1-on-1 competition… Helton showed the team video of Tuesday’s 1-on-1 segment to demonstrate a principle he wants to emphasize this year: “We’re trying to bring that competitive element that the best player you may face the entire week may be right here on this field.”
  • Getting the tight ends involved… Despite injuries limiting Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Erik Krommenhoek, USC has found a way to get the tight ends involved more often this camp, utilizing pass catching from Josh Falo and Tyler Petite in particular. That’s partly on purpose and partly on the players delivering the passes, Helton said. Last year the coaches made an effort to include more tight end-centric plays. And the QBs are taking advantage: “I credit the quarterbacks. They’re taking what the defense is giving them. They’re not keying in on one particular guy. They’re reading the defenses, they’re seeing the matchups, they’re seing the one-on-one opportunities.”
  • Sack stats… Joining Harris’ two sacks, Malik Dorton got to Sears in the third down period.
  • Running wild… Aca’Cedric Ware showed off his breakaway ability for the second-straight practice with a long scamper during the opening no-huddle period. Later, walk-on Ben Easington barreled through defenders for a long run.
  • Dialing down, then up… Thursday’s practice in shells and Friday in just jerseys will be a bit of a winding down period for the Trojans before the energy ramps up on Saturday for the second scrimmage of Fall Camp.