On a day when the defense had the upper hand, with a nearly complete stifling performance in Saturday's scrimmage, the team in the white jerseys came close to producing as many scores as the offense.
A Porter Gustin safety came just after Ykili Ross had another safety not called when he forced Cody Kessler to throw the ball out of bounds, but shy of the line of scrimmage while in the end zone. Michael Hutchings nearly returned an interception the length of the field and Kevon Seymour recovered a kickoff and ran it in for a touchdown. The defense also forced three to five fumbles, depending on who you ask (since there were no referees to make a final determination on whether a runner was down or if a pass was backwards for a lateral).
It was a very bad offensive day...except for one player. Freshman running back Dominic Davis is the only reason the offense scored more than their defensive counterparts. His three scores in three different ways created the only positive offensive buzz after the Saturday scrimmage.
"This scrimmage to me was about finding out who's going to play when it's time to play," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I think 16 showed up today and said I'm capable of playing football here at USC."
Davis is listed at a generous 5-foot-10, which might be giving him an extra inch or three. He’s only 175 pounds, so when he takes a big hit, it’s known because he goes flying. But Davis continues to get up on every big hit regardless if that hit comes from Delvon Simmons, Jonathan Lockett or Jabari Ruffin, who seems to have taken a special interest in welcoming Davis to Pac-12 football with some big knocks.
“We make sure to come up to each other in the locker room after and show love,” Ruffin said with a smile. “We really do like each other. He really gives me good looks. He’s low to the ground, really fast and if you don’t watch out, he will get you.”
Davis’ smaller stature makes him a harder target to find, which can be a good and a bad thing. He can get lost in traffic or quickly be out of sight if a large defensive lineman is baring down on a quarterback looking for a screen pass or a short relief outlet in the flats or in the middle of the field. But he also can pinball back and forth in a hole before bouncing away and shooting out like a cannonball that goes right by unsuspecting defenders that had assumed he was already tackled.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, Davis had a run where he got a couple of yards up the middle. The pile was still standing up and slightly going forward when Davis bounced outside. He then put a spin move on the cornerback and jutted up the left sideline for a big run that earned a first down.
There weren’t many offensive highlights, but Davis was one of the offense’s brightest stars on the day. He produced a handful of plays that showcased his special talent with a combination of quicks, cuts and top-end speed. Finding ways to get him in space is what the coaches have to be working on because of his explosive big-play ability. Davis finished with two of the four offensive touchdowns and also added another on special teams.
“Dominic is a great athlete, great athlete,” Ruffin said. “I’d be surprised to face a running back faster than him in this conference.”
Davis caught a pass in the flats and scampered into the end zone for one score, running by a walk-on linebacker that never had a chance at getting a hand on him. He ran another up the middle, diving in from two yards out after a couple of George Katrib catches set up the second-team unit. But his most electric play came on kick return where he took one the distance with the second-team return.
“Dom's been doing what he's been doing all training camp long. He's an electric guy when he gets to the edge,” Sarkisian said. “He can create plays with his legs, with his speed. I like him because he's tough. He puts his nose in there."
It has become apparent that while Davis might not be one of the first running backs on the depth chart, he could be one of the first to actually come off the bench in the game. His ability in the open field is just too much to be ignored at this point.