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Finishing Fall Camp, on to Alabama

Time for the Trojans to turn their attention to Alabama after Day 16 and the finish of Fall Camp with a new quarterback and a new identity on defense.

They found their quarterback, or two, and an identity for the defense and now it's goodbye to Fall Camp after 16 days of the Max Browne-Sam Darnold Show.

Next stop for USC's Trojans: defending national champion Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Texas. And no need to say you don't want to be looking ahead too much. There's no looking ahead now. The Tide is next.

Well, right after naming the quarterback and putting out the two-deep, something that will happen later Saturday afternoon, moved up from Sunday, Clay Helton said after Friday's full-pads scrimmage that saw the veteran Browne put the longest distance between himself and redshirt freshman Darnold since the start of spring. But more of that later.  

We're talking defense here to start although it's never a bad idea to know who your quarterback is, we're thinking that after a couple of years searching, you might be thrilled to have an idea of just what exactly your defense is going to look like.

"It's all good," said Cam Smith, Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year back all the way from ACL surgery of the Trojans' quest to figure out who they are on defense. Here's Cam's list.

"We want to be tough-nosed, focused on stopping the run, make them know you're coming, show great effort and make them know that effort is always going to be there," he said. The USC defense, Cam promised, will be coming after you and it would be well for you to understand that. Or words to that effect.

"We want to be assignment and alignment sound," said Adoree' Jackson. "That's pretty much what Coach Helton and Clancy [Pendergast] want us to do -- play fast but don't go crazy," he said of the physical way the corners [with Iman Marshall] attacked the wide receivers -- and the football -- Friday.

"When everybody knows their assignment and is flying downhill," Cam said, well for a defense, that's when the game is fun.

"We wanted to establish an identity," defensive coordinator Pendergast said. "We did that." Now they just need to get better.

"You take Adoree' out of the mix and there are 15-20 starts all together [on this defense]," Clancy said. But not in a woe-is-me way. Just the opposite.

Here's what that means, he said. "We're going to get better."

Asked about the improvement in the front seven with the addition of nose tackles grad student transfer Stevie Tu'ikolovatu from Utah and onetime O-lineman Khaliel Rodgers, Clancy took it in this direction. "We want to play good defense at all three levels," he said.

And if you're talking improved depth, it doesn't end with nose tackle, Clancy said. "There's Connor Murphy at outside linebacker, Jack Jones who can play both ways and Ajene Harris, who also came over from the offense."

So there's depth now -- more so than USC has had the last two years since Clancy left and far more than USC had in 2013 when they were playing with a virtual one-deep defense under Clancy.

And when Marvel Tell and John Plattenburg get back at safety with Ykili Ross and the way newly scholarshipped Matt Lopes has been playing, that's a nice way to fill in a position where you already have Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay out there every day. 

"And then when you look at our linebackers," Clay said of the numbers and athletes there. "That's SC, that's this place," he said.

Athletes come here. And it lets coaches like Clancy mix and match, as he is now with pairing the two position leaders and middle linebackers -- Cam and senior Michael Hutchings, who stepped in to run things in the spring and summer when Cam was out.

Some combinations are better against the run, some against the pass, some better getting to the quarterback, some running to the football, so you can expect any number of pairings with Osa Masina, Olajuwon Tucker, John Houston and Quinton Powell. 

With that kind of depth and those kinds of numbers, you might not always be able to identify who's where but you should be able to recognize the way they're playing, these guys will tell you. And just when they needed him, 6-foot-6, 315-pound sophomore defensive tackle Noah Jefferson reappeared after missing most of camp with a bad back. Not only did he play well, Clay said, but he came out of it feeling fine. "I'm excited for Noah," he said.

Which was one big story line for these Trojans. "No injuries," Clay said. It all adds up.

BROWNE MAKES HIS MOVE: Max took advantage of his early opportunities Friday, leading both USC's first and second units to touchdowns -- two on Max passes and one on a Ronald Jones burst over right tackle from the 10. It looked like a finished product with Max out there. he hit on eight of his first 11, driving the short ball, feathering it when he had to and dropping a bomb on play action on his way to a 13-of-22 passing day. And of those incomplete passes, four were deliberate to kill the clock in the two-minute drill.

He looked completely in charge. Nothing close to a turnover, no interceptions. Nice combinations like the low driving ball to Josh Imatorbhebhe in traffic followed by a 30-plus yard play action TD to Isaac Whitney perfectly between double coverage.

All three tight ends benefited with a Taylor McNamara catch setting up a 10-yard TD to Tyler Petite. And not to be outdone, Sam came on in his 11-of-19 day to get one in late on a string of completions finishing up with a TD throw to Daniel Imatorbhebhe. Something to be happy for everyone here.

And then with Ronald and Justin Davis each having one big run, there really was something for everyone.

Although we'll take this one step further. For USC fans, nothing might have been more appreciated than lefty Matt Boermeester's four kickoffs deep into the end zone heading for the flag -- the back flag not the one at the goal line. Not a bad parlay. A directional kicker who can boot it high and far and to a place where you wouldn't want to even think about returning it even if you could catch up with it.

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

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