The USC Trojans wrapped up their sixth practice of the spring in full pads on Saturday in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Though Steve Sarkisian billed Saturday as a scrimmage earlier this week, it wasn’t a straight scrimmage, but more like the Spring Game last year. There were more team portions along with a variation of the “Oklahoma” drill.
The defense was able to cause a number of turnovers throughout the day, but the offense also had some big plays that went for touchdowns. Here are some players that stood out on Saturday:
The redshirt freshman cornerback has looked really good at times and still raw at others this spring. He is much better in press than he is playing off because of his size and long arms, but then on occasions, he doesn’t use those two attributes as much as he should. But there have been continued signs of improvement and he made a big play on Saturday, cutting in front of Juju Smith for an interception of Cody Kessler that he returned a good 20-25 yards before being bumped out of bounds.
Sometimes it is tough to judge offensive lineman on a day-to-day basis without focusing solely on them. But one-on-ones is a good opportunity to judge their physical abilities. And during one-on-ones, Banner dominated today. He had back-to-back opportunities against Delvon Simmons and both times he forced Simmons to the ground and laid on top of him. Banner has remarkable size and once he gets a defensive lineman off balance, it’s pretty much a done deal.
During the “Oklahoma” drill portion, USC lined up three levels that the ball carriers had to traverse with linemen facing off, linebackers taking on tight ends and fullbacks and defensive backs battling cornerbacks. It was very rare that the defensive linemen were able to make a play, but Joey Augello was one of those. The walk-on also made a nice play in the team portion, shedding a second team offensive lineman and swallowing up the rusher for a loss.
The Trojans’ oft-injured redshirt senior appears to be back to 100 percent and it is most evident on plays when Dawson shows off his ability to scrape a blocker and go sideline to sideline. On one running play that went wide opposite of Dawson, he did something we didn’t really see a linebacker do last year, running the play down from the backside. On the final play of practice, it was Dawson that was there to stop running back Justin Davis on a third-and-2 rush to give the defense the best-of-five victory once again.
He’s basically always open. At least, that seems to be the case with Steven Mitchell this spring. The redshirt sophomore seems to be back to full strength for the first time in his USC career and the explosiveness that made fans gasp after watching his high school highlight tape also is back. He had one of the biggest highlights of the day, catching a slant pass over the middle after beating a linebacker out of the slot. Safety Leon McQuay III, who was trying to come from the outside to make a tackle, got left on the ground after Mitchell made one cut. And once he gets in the open field, there aren’t many defenders that are going to catch him from behind.
If any of the young USC defensive backs gets too brash for his britches, so to speak, this year, the coaching staff should force the defender to try to tackle Soma Vainuku in a one-on-one setting. Getting carries as the Trojans’ heavy back this spring, Vainuku brings the pain to the defense, and particularly to defensive backs. Twice in the second half of the practice, defensive backs came up to try tackle him without a gang of friends to help out. First Vainuku ran over Lamont Simmons and then he did the same to Jonathan Lockett. Lockett was slower to get to his feet than normal and was flexing his left arm after it took the brunt of Vainuku’s blow.