Giving it their best shot . . . again

After Saturday's embarrassment at Boston College, USC opened the bye week the way they'd opened August practice -- going hard, competing, having fun and throwing the ball around. Throwing it around a lot.

Tee Martin wishes the Trojans "could have practiced yesterday."

Cody Kessler and Nelson Agholor were glad at least they got back to it in Tuesday morning's full-pads Cromwell Field practice that looked more like the first three weeks of August than the last two weeks of game-prep work.

"I loved it, I think we all did," Agholor said of the full-speed, uptempo, three teams deep mano-a-mano bye-week work with no need to prepare for a specific opponent yet.

"It's a great opportunity to get back at it -- and get better," Agholor said. "This is what football should be all about -- having fun and getting better."

"I thought it was great," Kessler said. "We really got to competing . . . and no Scout team . . . guys were flying around out there going against each other in full pads."

The way it should be, Kessler said. The way he wished it were "when we got up 17-6 [at Boston College] and should have put the gas pedal down and we just let up."

No letup Tuesday in a pass-heavy practice that had the defensive emphasis mostly playing against the pass. Later on, they'll get around to defending the option and tackling in space.

But this was about throwing the football. And catching it. And running the right routes -- "doing all the little fundamental things," Martin said. "The key for this team is to execute.

There are other keys. "We gotta' run better routes, we gotta' catch the ball and when it comes our way, get upfield with it," Martin said.

Here's why that matters, Martin said. "Cody is playing at such a high level right now," that he could do just about whatever USC needs. Could he throw it 60 times a game, if necessary, Martin was asked. "Sure, we're capable of doing that. We definitely have the talent."

Kessler is showing that he does. After going 31 of 41 in the losing effort at BC for 317 yards and four touchdown passes with no interceptions, he's completed 71 of his 100 attempts in three games with eight TDs and no interceptions and doing everything a pass-first team needs. If it becomes a pass-first team.

"Ultimately, Sark will call the plays," he says, his job is to have his now eight-man receiving corps ready to go, supplemented with running backs Buck Allen and Justin Davis, both of whom catch the ball with any of his wide receivers, Martin says.

Kessler has a different take. "I don't care if we throw it five times or 60 times, as long as we win." But those last two scoring drives when they clearly went pass-first -- and last -- were the best part of a game that had gotten away from them on eight straight run-first drives over two quarters that averaged 3.6 plays, gained just 57 yards and all ended in punts.

"I wish it would have happened sooner," Kessler said of those final two drives that took 19 plays totaling 140 yards in just 5:22 and resulted in touchdowns each time.

And while Sark didn't totally second-guess or reverse his "stubborn" and "run-first" playcalling philosophy, this practice said the pass-first game was in on this day. And yes, he said, "after every game, win lose or draw," he'll "go back and look at five, six or seven plays" he might do again differently if given the chance.

The one he singled out was the fourth and 2 on their own 44 early in the fourth quarter when he punted. He'd like that one back, Sark said.

"We as coaches didn't adjust as well in-game," Sark said, "I have to do a better job."

And he'd liked to have "helped [his defense] by converting more third downs, but we didn't. It's team game."

And it's that team thing he'd like another shot at, Sark said. And it's getting this team to understand this one thing.

"We're USC," Sark says. "Nobody is feeling sorry for us. We're going to get everybody's best shot. We didn't give them ours. That's critical."

Indeed.

TUESDAY'S WORK


Tuesday's full-pads practice was just what USC needed, Sark said. "It was hot, it was hard," as temperatures were already in the mid-80s in the blazing sun by 8:30. Although Sark didn't say, as some Trojans did, that they wished they could play this weekend to get that sour taste out of their mouths.

"I think it goes both ways," Sark said. "Sure we'd love to play this week to get the sour taste out of our mouths but we need this week off to get better -- individually and collectively." That's better healthwise and footballwise.

Healthwise, there were four players who left early, Sark said, for "extended rehab": Leonard Williams, Juju Smith, Tre Madden and Randall Telfer . . . D.J. Morgan announced his retirment, not from football but from this football team, with an intent to get his surgically repaired knee back in shape, concentrate on track where he was a world-class hurdler in high school and then give the NFL a try possibly by Pro Day . . . and walkon wide receiver Christian Tober broke his collarbone in last Thursday's closed practice and has had surgery and will be out a number of weeks.

For a wrapup of Tuesday morning's practice, check out TUESDAY BYE WEEK GHOST NOTES.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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