Finding a new way to play

On offense, it's all about getting tougher; On defense, it's all about getting there in a hurry and in a bad mood.

Good day Thursday on both sides of the ball. The defense made it clear this is a whole new year – with a whole new way of doing things.

For the offense, it’s not so much all new, just better, tougher, starting with the short-yardage run game.

All of which made for a bit of a combustible mix at the end of a competitive full-pads practice where even though both sides could make their case, it was the defense doing the running again.

And Zach Banner doing the scorekeeping – “4 to 1,” Zach screamed out the numbers for the Final Five offensive winners in the third-and-two situations.

Clay Helton said he didn’t much like that bit of boyish exuberance and lectured Zach on how as a senior, maybe a “quiet confidence” is called for here. That these veteran offensive linemen should be able to get the job done at crunch time – and not just against Cal, Colorado and UCLA – but Stanford and Wisconsin.

But asked if he was “confident” in the “quiet” part of that advice for the voluble Banner, Clay smiled and said “not very.” But his short run game when everybody knows you’re going to run it, that’s another story.

”I expect our offensive line to be doing those things,” Helton said of the late-practice dominance with three Justin Davis runs and then a big breakaway by Ronald Jones.

“We did not do that against a Stanford team, we did not get it done,” Clay said. “That’s what our spring is all about.”

The three-headed running back situation is working well, Clay says, with the two decidedly different talents leading the way. Davis has the ability to slash and hammer and RoJo can just keep running with it until there’s nowhere left to run. But don’t forget Aca’Cedric Ware, a combo 200-pounder, Clay says, who is having what his coach calls a terrific spring.

But it was the defense that got the jump here. Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu closed down the first running play of the nine-on-seven run part of practice from the edge, arriving at the same time as the ball did from Max Browne on the handoff to RoJo, knocked it loose and watched as Marvel Tell scooped it up in the end zone.

”I just wanted to start fast,” Nwosu said of a play that looked like he was blitzing but he wasn’t. “I just wanted to beat the pulling guard. When I saw the ball, my eyes lighted up.”

Later, freshman Oluwole Betiku coming hard inside, got there too quick for quarterback Sam Darnold on a low, mishandled snap and scooped it up for a score. D-line coach Kenechi Udeze “is getting his guys to get the quarterbacks off their spots,” Helton said, although “we have a long way to go from being a finished product.”

That was especially true on a day when DT Noah Jefferson was already being held out after an MRI didn’t show anything as to why he’s having back problems and now he’ll get a CAT Scan. And then Kenny Bigelow went down with a knee on a play going the other way and had to be carted off.

”You talk about a guy who has been a rock for us in the offseason,” Helton said of Bigelow who has already lost one season in 2014 after knee surgery and will have an MRI Friday. “We’ll all be saying prayers for him.”

“We’ll be all right,” said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jacob Daniel, who was Tuesday’s player of the day for his play against the run. “It’s just spring.”

”What we’re doing is a lot more fun,” Daniel said of the one-gap, penetrating, aggressive way to play. “It’s what I did in high school.

And that’s a tribute to his new coach – BKU. “I love that guy,” Daniel said. “He pushes us. The emphasis is on details – and effort . . . hand placement, moving our feet.”

So exactly how is that different from last year, Daniel is asked. “I’d rather not answer that,” he says.

But new/old defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has an answer even if he’s come in and purposely not looked at much film of last year in order to allow every player to start completely anew with him. Helton said since he was familiar with Clay’s defense n 2013, he sat down with him and they tried to match up players with positions to start.

”It’s a work in progress,” Pendergast said. “The techniques are a lot different . . . the concepts too . . . they’re foreign to them . . . like they’re seeing different things.”

Quick hitters here

Players limited or missing Tuesday: LB Osa Masina with a hamstring he was working hard to rehab; WR Michael Pittman with a collarbone crack that will probably keep him out rest of spring, DT Jefferson with his sore back . . . Also out John Plattenburg, C.J. Pollard and Ykili Ross . . . Juju Smith-Schuster wasn't full go with a hamstring tweak to end Tuesday's practice but did have his helmet on and was fielding punts and doing some running . . . Tyler Petite was out of pads finishing up his concussion protocol . . . Clay said they’re still working through the Scott Felix suspension and he’ll let us know if and when anything changes with regard to his status . . . Saturday’s live game-situation scrimmage at the Coliseum at 10 a.m. is open to the public and much awaited by Helton who has been talking it up all week.”

*** For more details on today’s practice, check out Thursday Spring Day 5 Ghost Notes.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com. #USCSpringBall16


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