It wasn't a game exactly, unless you were Max Browne and you got to throw the ball 37 times, completing 24, for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Then it was absolutely that -- your first serious college "game" action.
It helped that 22,788 showed up for Saturday's spring game at the Coliseum that makes it clear that the buzz is back for USC football. And it was neat that these folks mostly didn't want to leave.
From the tailgating that began well before noon to the autograph session that was extended well past the half-hour postgame set-aside for players like Juju Smith and Adoree Jackson, Su'a Craven and Cody Kessler, this was more than football.
It was fun. For everyone. When was the last time we could say that? Even the White team on defense didn't complain much that a slightly skewed scoring system produced a 37-23 Cardinal win for the offense.
That was Steve Sarkisian's take. "We'll get the message out to them the next couple of weeks," he said from the 82-play situational scrimmage under "thud" conditions -- no tackling -- but not right now. Analyzing and scrutinizing all of this is fine. But not on this, Day 15 of Sark's second spring at USC.
"Enjoy the day," he told his Trojans. It's been a good spring. No real casualties although John Plattenburg's ankle didn't come around enough for him to play.
And Claude Pelon didn't suit up as it was revealed a class he dropped had dropped him below the full-time schedule needed to stay eligible in the spring. But he'll be back this summer to play this fall with no problems, Sark said.
But if you were looking for a reason to be pleased, you could take your pick. Steven Mitchell was making the case for the entire wide receiver corps.
And with Cody Kessler going eight for 10 passing in limited action in order to get Browne plenty of playing time, that leaves the QBs a combined 32 of 47 for 277 yards with no interceptions.
But our pick on this day at the end of this spring would be Su'a Cravens, who finished up the way he's been playing all spring. With energy, excitement and extremly effective in his hybrid linebacker/safety/you name it position that has him making plays wherever they're to be made.
They had a deal, Su'a said. "I told Sark I'm not going to be just an ability guy, I'm going to be an effort guy." Every day. Every play.
And it's working. "It's not just the coaching," Su'a said after a day when his five tackles tied for the game-high with his two for losses topping everybody as he used his quickness to beat blockers into the backfield. "Since they've let me be me, I'm making a lot more plays."
"It's obvious,' Sark said. "Su'a's ridiculously talented. Our challenge to him was to do it every play . . . to run to the football . . . his effort has been contagious. He's had a fantastic spring."
But after Saturday, you can say the same for lots of folks. Down to just two scholarship D-linemen for the game, both Cody Temple and Delvon Simmons made themselves noticed with big plays in the backfield. As did linebackers like senior Lamar Dawson and freshman Cameron Smith.
But give Mitchell this, his wide receivers probably set the standard here. And maybe they should have. With Adoree Jackson opening on offense and Plattenburg out with a sprained ankle, they had the edge in personnel.
"We had to step up and take the leadership," Mitchell said, "even if Cody is the quarterback." Sark didn't know where to look when he started naming them -- JuJu Smith with his game-high nine catches for 52 yards and a TD. Or Mitchell with his seven catches for a game-high 90 yards.
Or how about the fast-improving early entry JC guy -- Isaac Whitney -- who had five catches for 45 yards. Or the good-hands Darreus Rogers, who had four for 30. But if you're talking efficiency, how about walkon Chistian Tober's pair of four-yard catches -- each for a touchdown..p>"We held a lot of stuff back," Sark said. And they didn't much try to run it, which doesn't work all that well when you're in a "thud" game anyway. "We're going to run the ball well," Sark said, even though on this day, the numbers, such as they were, for running the ball, especially in goal line, were almost literally off the charts with 21 carries producing a net of three positive yards.
Don't worry, Kessler said. "This team is going to be able to run the ball."
Notice no one asked about the Trojans' ability to throw it and catch it. Max looked like he's been taking lessons from Cody on extending the play with his legs and throwing on the money on the run, as he did a number of times firing it on a line or feathering it over defenders.
"I feel like I can make all the throws," Max said. And pretty much did on this day.SPRING GAME STATS For full stats on the Spring Game, check out USC SPRING GAME STATS.
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