No way around it, Clay Helton said of Wednesday's practice. USC worked on "first down efficiency and the quarterback run," he said. Only Louisville -- with Lamar Jackson -- does it better than Arizona's Wildcats.
Brandon Dawkins, who exited last week's loss to Utah in the third quarter, has 63 carries for 484 yards -- a 7.7 average and freshman Khalil Tate, an LA kid who came on to replace Dawkins, has 112 on 25 (a 4.5 average).
Dawkins "is electric," Clay said. And the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Tate, who the Trojans considered last year as a Serra senior, "has running back skills," Helton says. Not your classic quarterback but if you let either of them get the jump on you on first down, they'll get it to third and short and make your life miserable running the quick RPOs, Clay says.
All of which is a recipe for a team piling up first downs on the way to a 90-to-100-play day, Clay said. USC cannot let that happen. That's where third down efficiency comes in, Helton says, of a team that will make it tough on you in third-and-short with its run-pass-option game. "We have to make it thrd and long."
A couple of ways USC plans to handle that. Josh Fatu has been elevated to the first team with Stevie Tu'Kolovatu -- "Call them 1A and 1B," Helton said of their first-team designations playing alongside Rasheem Green. Stevie T. "is great on first- and second-downs," Helton said, and "quick-twitch" Josh, out of Long Beach CC, has become "one of the guys the light has gone on for," Clay said. "He's starting to show that."
Iman Marshall says from his point of view at the corner opposite Adoree' Jackson, "it's going good . . . and a lot of that is because of our D-line putting pressure on the quarterback . . . I felt like I started out real slow," not unlike USC's D-line, it could be noted, and now he's got to step up -- cut down the penalties and catch those interceptions that are coming his way. "With Adoree' at the other corner, I know they're coming at me."
As to those interception chances, "I had a couple that I could have had last week," Iman says, with a couple of banged-up fingers not allowing him to make the catches.
One other pass-rushing piece of the puzzle is freshman Oluwole Betiku, who Clay likes to say "looks like a 30-year-old," but at 260-sculpted pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame, the Serra alum is in the mix now. Gone on Saturday was his redshirt with one play against Colorado. Now this week at practice, gone is his black Scout team jersey.
"Looking at who we're playing," Clay said of the upcoming schedule against no-huddle, uptempo Arizona, Cal and Oregon, teams that will run as many plays as you let them, Wole "gives us that pass rush," Clay says. And that pass rush is what gets a defense off the field on third down. And does the same to the no-huddlers.
"So we pulled the trigger," Clay said of Wole's redshirt. He'll also play on special teams now in addition to third downs.
Matty B. bustin' it
They leave early to go lift, the special teams guys do. But placekicker Matt Boermeester stopped back on the field on his way to class to talk about kicking and how he's blown up this year. The San Diego native and son of former UCLA placekicker Peter, a Top 10 career FG kicker for the Bruins who played there from 1977 through 1979 had a quiet first year at USC last season with four PATs and 22 kickoffs, just two for touchbacks. This year he has 19 in his 32 kickoffs, many out of the end zone, more than two USC kickers had all of last year.
It's not any one thing, Matt says of his strength kicking it off. "I do a lot of fast twitch work with my legs," he says of the weight work. "But it has to all come together with your technique. Your mechanics are more important than strength. Momentum is a big part of it. A lot of guys don't understand that."
So is this. "I get a lot more attention," he says, now that he's the man. But then there's also this. "Some time the light switches on," he says. He's "never had a kicking coach except my dad. But this year I'm very comfortable out there."
Comfortable even when his special teams coach, John Baxter, reminds him that "our kickoff team is so good, he tells me we lose seven yards every time I kick a touchback . . . although I still think they like me kicking it there."
So much so that USC switched footballs to allow that to happen this year. "It's a huge difference," Matt says of the switch. "[Cody] Kessler wanted new balls opened Thursday out of the box for the games. They were slick and really hard to kick."
Not this year, the Nike Vapor Elite ball is "the ball that's the talk of kickers all across the nation," Matt says. "It's probably only a miniscule difference [in dimension] for our quarterbacks throwing it," he says. "They like it. But the ball I'm using now is like a month old. We've got good thing going with it."
It doesn't hurt on field goals either. Matt is eight of 11, six of seven from the 40 to the 49 with a long of 49 and a close miss from 53.
SR QB Max Browne handled the questions about not playing with class saying essentially he wished it had worked out, that he wants to play and that's pretty much it. Not much else to say if he's going to choose to not go down in flames firing off at the way he was demoted after three games . . . Not a great deal of injury news today although SR O-lineman Jordan Simmons, after practicing a full day Tuesday, was held out today, not in pads but out with the team. He did emerge from Saturday's game with ice taped to both knees and they have been known to rest him on the second of back-to-back days . . . the good news here is that Zach Banner was back for the full practice and moving much better and alternating with Chuma Edoga, who filled in at both right tackle for Banner and left tackle for Chad Wheeler on the first and second teams without Simmons . . . Justin Davis, out for several weeks at least with a high ankle sprain was not here again . . . Sr. LB Michael Hutchings saw much more first-team action with his bruised shoulder and did a number of end zone gassers with strength boss Ivan Lewis supervising when the second team was on the field . . . For more play-by-play on today's practice, check out WEDNESDAY ARIZONA WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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