The first-team defensive unit was a skeleton of the envisioned opening day starters on Thursday. Along with Adoree’ Jackson being on offense and Claude Pelon out for the foreseeable future following an arthroscopic surgery on his knee, the linebacking corps was depleted.
Senior Anthony Sarao was at graduate school orientation while Lamar Dawson remains out with cracked ribs. Su’a Cravens was also given the day off due to some back spasms. But that just meant there were more opportunities to go around for the backups. That is particularly important when there are 16 linebackers on the roster.
“It means a lot for me to get those first-team reps and to take advantage of it as much as I can because the opportunities are slim with so many guys,” Michael Hutchings said. “Since I’ve been here, the competition hasn’t been this deep since I’ve been here the last three years, so that’s definitely a big deal with the young guys rapidly improving every day because they are getting to learn everything.”
Extra opportunities for players like Hutchings and Uchenna Nwosu are rare, so they have to be maximized.
“It’s a chance to show what I really have, what I’m really about,” Nwosu said. “I mean getting the starting role is always more pressure, but you can’t always count that as a factor. You just have to play as if you are already playing full time.”
Hutchings and Nwosu figure to be two of the more important backups this season because of their versatility to step in as a veteran on the defense and also play key roles in special teams. Hutchings has had a strong fall camp, collecting a couple of interceptions and popping ballcarriers whenever he has the chance.
“I’m definitely trying to get my physicality up,” Hutchings said. “I feel like I’ve got a good grasp of the defense now and a good grasp of the system, so that’s no longer an excuse. But I now have the time to focus on improving my play with my physicality and my technique now that I have the schemes and stuff down.”
- Top Skill Player Thursday: Max Browne
Cody Kessler (and two other graduated seniors) missed practice due to grad school orientation, but head coach Steve Sarkisian never addressed it with the team, choosing instead to just hand the keys to Max Browne like he would in a game, if Kessler were to be injured.
Browne locked in and went to work like he owned the place. He said in the summer that his goal was for there not to be a single drop off should he be needed to take over the reins of the first-team offense. On Thursday, there was not. He still knew the key was to find Adoree’ Jackson, Juju Smith-Schuster and Steven Mitchell Jr. (before he left practice with an injury).
- Top Lineman Thursday: Cyrus Hobbi
Former offensive lineman turned tight end Cyrus Hobbi is still lining up with his hand on the ground and is still blocking defensive linemen on the regular. Only now, every once in a while, he gets to run downfield on a passing play without a flag being tossed in his direction.
Hobbi had a really nice grab on a perfectly placed ball from Sam Darnold that was thrown over his outside left shoulder on a flag route. He split a pair of freshmen in Marvell Tell and Isaiah Langley and then outraced them to the end zone as well. It was his top highlight from camp thus far.
- Top Newcomer Thursday: Dominic Davis
The USC coaching staff seemed to work even harder to get lithe freshman running back Dominic Davis the ball in space and they were successful — both in implementation and results. Davis is an electrifying playmaker when he gets (and holds onto) the ball in space. He is small, but lightning fast both with his top-end speed and his quick-twitch ability to change direction.
- Top Play Thursday: Adoree' Jackson
The play of the day happened before practice even started. It was when Adoree’ Jackson walked through the doors, which now slide rather than swing open, at Howard Jones Field wearing his cardinal jersey once again.
The electric playmaker was back at it again on Thursday. His touchdown count might not have been quite the four or five that we saw on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean he was any less spectacular. The always-smiling Jackson (you’d always smile too if you had that athleticism) produces offensive highlights like he’s playing against competition a level beneath him.
His top offensive play of Thursday’s practice was in the final team session period. On one of the first plays, Max Browne tossed a short pass to Jackson on the left side of the field. Jackson caught the ball and made the cornerback miss. He then split the chasing corner, a linebacker and a safety all trying to converge on him at the numbers. From there, no one was going to catch Jackson. He could have slowed up at the 50, knowing that no one was continuing to chase him with a glance over his shoulder, but Jackson doesn’t do anything half spectacular, so he sprinted the length of the field for an 85-yard touchdown.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for the Bugs Bunny of college football. Jackson also went out and nailed a field goal attempt after being thrown in with the kickers struggling with consistency. It wasn’t necessarily a beautiful kick, but it went through the uprights. Jackson isn’t a complete stranger to kicking the ball, having been the punter for Gardena (Calif.) Serra, but Sarkisian threw him in on a whim, saying he expected him to be a guy that would make it since the kickers weren’t.