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Now they know . . . what to work on

Some things we know after Monday's Coliseum scrimmage: There's a lot for this Trojans team to work on. But now they know exactly what's on their to-do list.

It's good to know. Now USC's Trojans do.

That's how a "reality check," as Clay Helton called it, works. They're a long way from being ready to play Alabama. But as much as they probably knew that, now they really know it. Monday's scrimmage left no doubt.

"Thank goodness it's Practice 13 with 16 to go," Clay said of a Trojan team that he describes as "a half of them are ready to go, a half of them are not," while talking of "the penalties . . . a lot of work to do." 

With the coaches off the field and the offense on its own, there was a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights stare here. They were on their own. And their own wasn't enough.

We're talking the offense, here. The USC defense looks like it's ready to hang with, and bang with, anybody with 19 days until kickoff. And if you're going to have to depend on one side or the other to be ready to go in the early going, better it be the defense.

So USC will take it for now. Meaning until Tuesday when they have to start getting some things worked out on offense.

"I can't wait to see the film," Clay said a couple of times like he was licking his chops to get started as quickly as he could get out of here.

Not as quickly as Max Browne, who apologized for not being able to talk as he roared up the tunnel in a sprint to his 6 p.m. final project presentation for a Marshall MBA summer session class. He'd come back strong at the end in the Red Zone and in the two-minute drill after just about the worst of all possible starts with his first two passes intercepted, one for an Adoree' Jackson easy pick-six.on a floater to nowhere in particular.

The other wasn't his fault. His first pass was perfect, a 15-yarder through coverage -- and through Steven Mitchell's hands -- right to an alert Ykili Ross, who just keeps finding himself in the right place at the right time. But for the offense, that's the kind of play you can't make against Alabama.  

On this day when it was the offense's turn to talk, well, there wasn't all that much to talk about. But there was Deontay Burnett, who did everything he could to insert himself into whatever discussion there is about a talented and deep USC wide receiver position that hasn't exactly set the world on fire thus far. But Deontay did, scoring a pair of touchdowns, taking the hits, catching the ball in traffic, laying out for it, diving through defenders for the goal line.

Was there anything he didn't do? He wasn't exactly saying. "I'm not that much of a vocal guy," the 6-foot, 173-pound sophomore from Serra said. That's up 14 pounds from a low of 159 -- "Say 160," he said of the weight he played at as a super-slim freshman.

"I made my plays," Deontay said of his breakout day. "I just have to trust the process . . . with the coaches not out there helping us, we saw today and we have to pick it up tomorrow." To that point, veterans JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers lectured their guys before and after the scrimmage.

"Deontay really did step up," said Sam Darnold, who said he knew he would when he hit him with a 10-yarder in the Red Zone that he "was going to take a gut shot," after he caught it -- which he did -- both catch it and catch the gut shot from a defense that never failed to punish pass-receivers.

"It's neat to see a couple of guys jump out," Clay said of Deontay, "the way he put in two scores and played like a vet." 

Which gets us to the day's other absolute standout -- Adoree', who seemed always around the ball, or the man, making life tough for the likes of JuJu and Darreus. It's paying off, Clay said of "the investment we made in keeping him on defense."

Much of what the defense is doing is paying off. There are the pair of nose tackles, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Khaliel Rodgers, who got an extended look Monday. Then there's the play of big sophomore linebackers Porter Gustin and Osa Masina, the solid work of Uchenna Nwosu, the return of Cam smith and Chris Hawkins, and the assignment-sound way Clancy Pendergast's aggressive defense just keeps playing with.

That's not to say there weren't some other bright spots on offense. There were. Clay called out all three running backs by name -- Justin Davis, Ronald Jones, who also had a nice screen pass conversion, and Aca'Cedric Ware, who just keeps looking better and better. "I'm much more confident than I was last year," Ced said, admitting that "it got to be a kind of mess with the coaches not out there to help."

And while there are things to point to that aren't happening on offense, running the ball with determination wasn't one of them -- at least as the day went on. They went to it. Amazing how that changes what you can do throwing it when you have some success running it. Helped the O-line against a penetrating defense, as well.

Still not seeing on offense the ball going to the tight ends. Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Tyler Petite each caught one big pass. Need to see them get more looks. And then there's the issue of wide receiver separation. Except for Deontay, it's just not happening. And for the deeper play-action stuff, the timing just hasn't been there. These areas have to get better.

But to balance that out, give credit to Max and Sam for bouncing back in the Red Zone and two-minute drill stuff. Sam might have had the slightly better numbers there -- against the second group but Max had the better performance against the ones at the end but Max was on top of his game there.

"I thought he worked it almost to perfection," Clay said, saving a timeout, getting the ball in place for a 41-yard field goal with 0:04 left. That was good work. Sam followed against the twos with a TD strike against busted coverage to freshman Velus Jones from out past the 40 to end the day.

SCRIMMAGE FOOTNOTED: Sam had two TD passes, no interceptions, Max two INT, one TD pass . . . on which QB will win the competition, Deontay said "I'll leave that to Coach Helton" . . . best news of the day, Clay said -- "Seventy-five plays and no injuries" . . . Noah Jefferson was back in pads and doing some work in the morning on what was a two-a-day day for USC. Clay said he got an epidural four days ago and is having no pain in his back, now it's just his strength" that's the issue . . . Clay said "one thing you want to see from your quarterbacks is how they react . . . " when things aren't going so well, which is exactly what he got to see from Max on this day. Not bad . . . While no official stats were kept, unofficially Max did manage to hit on half of his 14 passes while Sam was well above that on his dozen attempts . . . Clay had good words for both Chris Brown and Damien Mama in what he says is a dead-even competition for the left guard spot . . . Clay also had good words for freshman receivers Michael Pittman's physicality and the way Josh Imatorbhebhe has improved his work on deeper routes.    

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