USC Football Practice Notes: Bye week focuses and standouts (10/3)

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

USC football’s final bye week practice on Wednesday featured more emphasis on individual and overall team improvement.

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Head coach Clay Helton detailed four big bye week focuses for USC football on Wednesday, the final day of practice for the Trojans.

First, improving one specific fundamental or technique for each position group, whether hand placement for the offensive line or pass rush moves for the defensive line.

“Take a fundamental or a technique and lets improve it this week,” Helton said. “Let’s don’t try to do a hundred things, let’s focus on the one to two things that you know that we’ve got to get better for this up-and-coming game.”

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Second, getting players healthy.

Nearly all of USC’s senior starters on defense were rested this week with varying degrees of bumps and bruises, from Malik Dorton’s ankle to Porter Gustin’s knee. The likes of John Houston and Talanoa Hufanga were also held out.

“We didn’t have this luxury last year,” said Helton, grateful to use this week as a chance to get fresh with a potentially eight-week stretch of games on the horizon.

Third, developing players on the cusp of contributing.

Helton cited linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, cornerbacks Olaijah Griffin and Greg Johnson, and safety Chase Williams as players who could benefit especially from the extra reps that come along with so many veterans sitting out.

The extra reps are a valuable teaching tool young players simply can’t get while game prep is going on. They also give coaches tape to coach those players off of specifically.

“[We want] to be able to get those guys that could be one injury away to where the production level doesn’t fall,” Helton said.

Finally, it was a week for self-evaluating.

The Trojans broke down their own film as though they were an opponent. That gave coaches areas of improvement to address, but also a unique opportunity to see their own tendencies and address them, Helton said.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to be able to go back and self-scout ourselves,” he said.


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Notes and tidbits

  • Extra work on Thursday… It would seem Helton is somewhat aware of the criticism he has received for USC’s approach to the bye week. After it was reported the Trojans would only practice twice, he took pains to clarify that three practices were on tap for the week, including a more-involved Monday outing. On Wednesday, he went into more detail, informing the media of an extra strength and conditioning session planned for Thursday before players were due to have meetings with coordinators.
  • Running meetings… Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast had a wrinkle for USC’s young players to navigate this week. They had to run meetings, breaking down film and teaching older players based on what they saw. It was a change of pace and a good opportunity to see where they’re at mentally, Pendergast said. And they impressed him doing it.
  • Challenging Brandon Pili… With the focus on pass rush on Wednesday, Helton said he specifically challenged defensive tackle Brandon Pili to become more of a force on the defensive line. “He does have some unique pass rush ability as a big man,” Helton said. “I thought he did a really nice job today.”
  • Levi Jones prepared like a starter… Helton highlighted the efforts of linebacker Levi Jones in a team meeting this week after the redshirt sophomore performed well subbing in for an injured John Houston against Arizona. Jones impressed the head coach with a couple tackles for loss and played a pivotal role on one of USC’s many stops at the goal line, clipping the ankles of one of the Wildcat runners. “I was really proud of him,” Helton said.
  • Markese Stepp leaves a mark… Freshman running back Markese Stepp got a shout out from Helton for his efforts this week, especially during USC’s run-emphasis practice on Tuesday. “For a big man at 230 pounds I thought he did a tremendous job running the ball,” Helton said.
  • Iman Marshall vs. Michael Pittman… One-on-one drills between receivers and corners got a different look on Wednesday with Michael Pittman switching sides to match up with Iman Marshall. Pittman was coming off an exceptional day on Tuesday, but he was no match for USC’s senior cornerback. Marshall won three different battles with Pittman, breaking up two endzone jump balls and a third short route.
  • Josh Imatorbhebhe showing signs… Redshirt sophomore receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe has made real progress this week, finally back from a Fall Camp ankle injury. No longer heavily taped at his ankle, Imatorbhebhe broke free for two long touchdown catches on Wednesday.