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And the band played on

Back and forth they go with Wednesday just another chapter in the Max Browne-Sam Darnold quarterback battle that Clay Helton says he thinks about every second of every day. Two practices to go.

It doesn't get any better than having USC's Trojan Marching Band finish up its band camp work the way it did Wednesday with a full-on, on-field concert the last half-hour of full-team, 11-on-11 helmets, shoulder pads and short practice.

But as much fun as the re-introduction of music to Trojan practices might have been, it didn't create any clarity for the call at quarterback. Although it did earn the first shoutout of the day for USC's legendary band director, Dr. Art Bartner, from Clay Helton from coming by.

Shoutout No. 2 from Clay went to USC's Student Athlete Academic Services support group that made it possible for him to announce, as predicted a week ago, that all 105 Trojans would be eligible. Good work by Dr. Magdi El Shahawy and his staff, all of whose names Clay recited, for their good work. "The best in the country," Clay said of the "two-million-dollar" program that paid off this summer.

And maybe this is a good time to insert a big shout-down for some of the message board rumor-mongers who posted names of Trojans they were hinting might be gone. Not cool, folks.

But the biggest part of what's playing out here will be on Clay and not one of USC's doctoral staffers, along with his coordinators and position coaches, after two more practices. This was Day 14, Practice 16 -- "with 13 to go," Clay said before the Alabama game (Sept. 3, 5 p.m. PT) in Texas.

"Sounds like a low number," Clay said, "but considering the progress our defense has made, might be where we should be."

But only two more practices before the quarterback back and forth takes a final Fall Camp turn with the decision as to who will be the quarterback. Veteran Max Browne had his comeback day Tuesday.

Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold didn't really need one but was on fire Wednesday, throwing for three straight touchdowns his first three throws in seven-on-seven. Although he did have JuJu Smith-Schuster going against an injury-depleted second secondary group. Not fair, really.

Also on fire was walk-on safety Matt Lopes, back healthy, with two interceptions and a knockdown at the goal line playing mostly for the first group with Marvell Tell and John Plattenburg still out. His flying would-have-been-a-pick-six at the goal line against Max in seven-on-seven is one of the reasons you just never know where this is headed.

Here's how this is going to go, Clay said, for his weekend decision-making process. He'll consult his staff, go position by position, watch all the film and review all the numbers he can and when he makes the call, he'll call in the players and their families to go through it with them. And then by Sunday, USC will put out the word. Although good luck with that info holding out overnight Saturday.

What will determine it for Clay, who says he absolutely has not made the decision yet -- and with two days to go -- wouldn't, are these considerations: "decision-making, not turning the ball over (edge to Sam on just one INT to Max's five, but edge to Max, by about those same numbers on fumbles and mishandled snaps) and explosive plays down the field."

Said another way, Clay added: "getting the ball out on time with accuracy."

WEDNESDAY FOOTNOTED:  Injury report had Damien Mama re-tweaking the ankle he tweaked Tuesday after trying to come back, Rasheem Green with a minor knee contusion, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu with a minor hip issue, Jordan Simmons to rest his knee and Ykili Ross and Cole Smith with the flu bug still . . . Trojans practice on campus at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, the final two practices open to the public before taking off much of the weekend with Salute To Troy also Friday at 6 . . . That's why Clay won't finish up the evaluations and the two-deep until what will probably be a very long day Saturday . . . Focus Wednesday was on the four-minute offense, Clay said, with a great deal of the run game . . . as to not throwing the ball quite as much to the tight ends as they did in the spring and the summer PRPs, Clay said they're still big in USC's plans but they'll do it when a defense is "two-high" on the back line as they were in the spring but not so much when they're "one-high" as they've been in Fall Camp. "It's still early," Clay said, "the tight ends a very viable option for us."    

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