It wasn’t a spring game, actually. Nor was it even a full scrimmage, although the Trojans did manage to run 84 plays Saturday – with five different quarterbacks – to the delight of 23,000 sun-soaked fans at the Coliseum.
It was more of a public practice and just the spring finish this Trojans team required.
USC needed to develop an offensive identity, a flow, an idea of how it would do things, how the coaches would call things, how the quarterbacks would handle things, how the three tight ends would fit into the new schemes and how a now veteran offensive line would exert itself in the run game and pass protection.
Well, put a checkmark by each of those. They made progress on this day. And they did what they had to do. Sure, some viewers who wanted an all-out game watching at home weren’t happy. But who cares. This isn’t about them. It’s about what’s best for USC right now.
And yeah, Clancy Pendergast and his personnel-limited defense took one for the team as he went extremely vanilla on the day. “I think he called just four blitzes,” Clay Helton said.
”He was very kind to us,” passing game coordinator Tyson Helton said. But a defensive unit that’s made life difficult for the offense all spring with its speed running to the ball and getting across the line of scrimmage, at least with the first group, will save those looks for Alabama four-and-a-half months from now.
Losing big, strong freshman D-lineman Noah Jefferson to a hyperextended left elbow as he made the tackle on the first play wasn’t the start USC wanted.
But this was about the offense. And they stepped up to show what they could do.
*** After giving way to his wide receiver teammates much of the spring, Juju Smith-Schuster returned to remind you just how special he is, scoring three touchdowns on five receptions for 55 yards.
*** All four scholarship quarterbacks threw the ball on time, on target and acquitted themselves as they have most of the spring. And as good as the three behind him played, Max Browne, hit on seven of 11 for 114 yards and three TD to stay in front. Sam Darnold hit on six of seven for 63 yards and two TD.
”It’s a big step I’ve taken this spring,” Max said. But has he locked it up? “We’ll see. I felt I played well.”
”I’ll sit down with them Monday,” Clay said, and tell them whether he’s made a decision on the starter “or whether we continue it to fall camp.”
”He could,” quarterbacks coach Tyson said of his older brother making the call Monday. “Clay has earned the right. I get an opinion, I don’t get a vote. There’s only one vote."
Two things have changed the look – and the effectiveneess – of this offense with the tight ends at the head of the list.
“The tight ends are at the center of what we do,” Tyson said with their ability to run deep middle, catch the ball, stretch the field and hold the safeties away from helping out on the wide receivers the way they did last fall.
*** Something else is making the passing game go. Make that four something elses. Start with a veteran offensive line. “We have two senior tackles and three juniors in the middle,” one of those tackles, Zach Banner said. No more indecision up front. No more whiffing.
”This is different from my last four years here,” Banner said. “We’ve had a new coaching staff [on the O-line] every year but this year it doesn’t seem new . . . we’re experienced . . . we’re comfortable and confident.”
Then there’s the quick-hit ability. “We try to give them a number of quick options,” Tyson said of routes that include at times two tight ends, as when they flooded the zone with Taylor McNamara and Daniel Imatorbhrebhe from 25 yards out on Daniel’s TD catch.
Then there’s the assignment soundness. No whiffs. Only one penalty. And there’s a commitment to running the ball with all four backs picking up 202 yards on 35 carries. Justin Davis is running like a senior should run. He’s quicker, more elusive and more patient. Each had their moments, all had at least one run over 10 yards.
Run the ball effectively and your play-action stuff becomes much more effective. “The difference [in the offense] JuJu said was simply “our new coaching staff . . . we’re a lot more comfortable with what we’re doing, a lot more relaxed.”
Quick hitters here
Great job by Jake Olson coming on to make two snaps for field goals at the end of the workout to the delight of his teammates, coaches and fans. It’s the first time that the blind long snapper from Huntington Beach has done it in front of a USC crowd at the Coliseum . . . “Just how special a kid, to be able to do that in front of the Trojan family,” Clay said . . . “how special that is” . . . Tee Martin and Tyson Helton called the scrimmage from the press box . . . no decision as to who goes where when it’s game time . . . the advantage of having Tyson on the sidelines is that as the QB coach, he’d be there to talk directly to his guys during a game . . . but if he’s not, he says, Clay could do that as well . . . DT Noah Jefferson in a sling afterwards for his hyperextended left elbow which didn’t seem nearly as painful as it was when he injured it making the first tackle . . . Clay didn’t think it was a serious injury . . . Oluwole Beitku running down Jalen Greene on a keeper right was one of the more impressive defensive plays of the day . . . the freshman can fly.
Browne 64-yard pass to Rogers
Browne 38-yard pass to Smith-Schuster
Darnold 4-yard pass to Smith-Schuster
Darnold 25-yard pass to D. Imatorbhebhe
J. Davis 2-yard run
J. Davis 1-yard run
Browne 1-yard pass to Smith-Schuster
Jones 2-yard run
*** For more details and play-by-play on Saturday’s scrimmage, check out LIVE FROM THE USC SPRING GAME AT THE COLISEUM.
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