It's time. Time for a day off after Wednesday night's 98-play Coliseum scrimmage.
And time to look ahead to tomorrow's return to practice for the August home stretch. As Steve Sarkisian keeps saying, two weeks from Friday, this USC team will be getting on buses and heading to the hotel to get ready for the Fresno State game.
*** Just sayin' that for a team playing without potential All-Americans Leonard Williams, Su'a Cravens and by coach's choice, Nelson Agholor, and without stalwart nose tackle Antwaun Woods, dynamic freshman Adoree Jackson and No. 2 wide receiver Darreus Rogers, it wasn't a bad show.
*** It wasn't all that good a show, at times, but some of that seemed like a case of not handling the anxiety of playing in the Coliseum almost for real.
*** But what that does is make the case for just how young this team is. No way around that. When you're down to 64 originally recruited scholarship players after the surgery on Jordan Austin, you have no choice. You're going to have to go young and without a great deal of experience.
*** And yet, there's plenty enough talent. Take away that many players from most teams, most who wouldn't have that many big-time talents to lose in the first place, and they really wouldn't be able to play. This team has to learn how to play -- and win -- despite who is and isn't there.
*** And yet, as much as we say that, had Cody Kessler not gotten up after getting whacked on his left knee, we would be having a completely different discussion here. Some things you can do something about, some things you can't. That would have been one of them.
*** No matter, this team should be able to run the football. Justin Davis looks like he picked up where he left off in the Arizona State game. Buck Allen and Tre Madden picked up where each left off last year, as well.
*** And without its top two receivers, the Trojans had to run it -- or throw it to the running backs, all of whom can catch it. Like long handoffs, really. Get used to it.
*** A pretty decent effort from a new offensive line. Sure, they didn't have to block Williams and Woods, but they looked together, they are long and wide and looked like they mostly knew what to do. Didn't get to see as much straight pass protection as we'd like so we'll have to wait and see on that.
*** But individually, it does look like there are four freshmen -- redshirt Khaliel Rodgers and true freshmen Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao not only who will have to play but also might be able to.
*** Not sure we've ever seen that before, four freshman O-linemen who have to contribute on a team expected to have a high-powered offense. Should be interesting.
*** And it looks like there will be more freshman skill guys than that -- a half-dozen at least -- who must contribute with Jackson and Juju Smith joining Ajene Harris and tight end Bryce Dixon on offense and John Plattenburg and Jonathan Lockett getting up to speed on defense. Again, we've never seen that before. Those are numbers with which we are not familiar.
*** All of which is the beauty of an uptempo system that runs so may plays, gets so many reps for players three-deep every day. No other way to teach this -- or learn it. You have to do it. This team is doing just that.
*** It has a chance despite the high numbers of newcomers and low overall numbers period. Because it's the talent that matters -- if it can make plays.
*** One thing we're seeing we didn't a year ago is a returning punter, Kris Albarado, who dropped a 46-yarder dead on the four-yard-line and a returning field goal kicker, Andre Heidari, who had a 51-yarder erased by a penalty and came back to nail one dead-center from 56 that would have been good from more than 60.
*** How long has it been that you could say that? This is a new world for USC football if special teams excel across the board. Add George Farmer on kickoff returns to Jackson and Agholor on punt returns and with Lockett joining Soma Vainuku on the kick-blocking bunch, this is a team with a chance to do special things on special teams. Now if they can smooth out the snapping/holding situation, they could be good to go.
*** One thing that came through in the scrimmage is that this team may be learning how to win ugly, how to win without all its weapons, how to win on one side of the ball or the other, or with special teams, when that's all it has in a particular game. That it doesn't have to be perfect, just better than whoever it's playing however it has to do that.
*** That's what veteran teams do. They know how to win. They know they're supposed to win. They know they've prepared to win. This is the challenge here. To get a young, talented team there. And for those players to get themselves there.
*** But with all this talk of the newbies, we can't forget the solid corps of veterans -- Hayes Pullard, Josh Shaw, Max Tuerk, Randall Telfer and Anthony Sarao along with Kessler, Agholor, Allen and Madden -- tested through years of fighting through sanctions and finally getting the chance to show what they, and USC, can do. Don't underestimate how much this chance means to them.
*** So how does this all play out? That's the question. Wednesday's scrimmage showed they're not close to being there yet. There's a lot to do. And as we look at this, little example of a team that's been able to do it this way.
*** Which makes this all so interesting. "We've got a lot to improve on," Pullard said afterward, echoing his defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who said, "We're not ready yet . . . there's plenty for us to work on."
*** On offense, what they worked on, in Sark's words, "running downhill . . . targeting . . . getting the running lanes right," they did "really well" with a young, reconstituted O-line.
*** But that's not enough, and won't be in many cases. It's the first piece of the puzzle, however, on which they'll build the passing game. It's a start. Which is where this team is right now. They're just startin' out.
*** Just sayin'.
USC's 98-play Wednesday evening Coliseum scrimmage followed by Thursday's day off went forward without Leonard Williams (shoulder) and Antwaun Woods (elbow), both in uniform and able to play if this had been a game . . . same for Adoree Jackson (foot), Darreus Rogers (calf strain not achilles as first reported), Su'a Cravens (groin pull) as well as Anthony Brown, who hyperextended his left elbow and has been fitted for a brace as Woods has been . . . Also missing was freshman offensive lineman Jordan Austin who will have surgery on both hips similar to Zach Banner's and expected to be back for spring ball according to a plan in place to allow him to get 10 days or so of fall camp before the surgery.
For a complete wrapup of Wednesday's Coliseum scrimmage, check out WEDNESDAY COLISEUM SCRIMMAGE GHOST NOTES.