The impressive thing about USC's Spring Game Saturday was that no one felt the need to act like there weren't eight potential fall starters unavailable.
Or that there would be a "game."
USC fans surely didn't think there would be one. A mere 14,781 showed up on a perfect LA day when the 62 plays produced just a pair of scores. Smallest crowd for this "game" in decades.
Can't fool these folks. Not that anyone tried. It's LA. They'll wait until it matters, like those first three games in September when Western Michigan, Stanford and Texas come to the Coliseum.
Which is really what this was all about. It was Practice 15. You get out of it what you can. You still turn the defense loose. Let them keep stuffing the run even if it is against a young patchwork offensive line.
And you let Sam Darnold "sling it" as Clay Helton described it, but just six times -- hitting on four -- and then let him watch from the sidelines as he readies for his role to take over the summer player-run practices. It's a role he relishes.
"It's when we establish our leadership, when we can be honest with ourselves," Sam says as his is the voice this young receiver corps will be hearing. "And without the coaches, we can be honest with ourselves," he says.
Not that it would be any different if the coaches were there this summer alongside Sam. "I'm not really worried what I say around the coaches, I have a really good relationship with them."
"Tee [Martin] and Tyson [Helton] allow him to do that," Clay said. "Communication is the key."
Much of the communication on this day was about what comes next. The PRP's as they're called. "They're very important to us," Clay says after a spring when so many will have a little bit of catching up to do.
Nico Falah, who did make it back the last two weeks despite a herniated disc to finish out at the center spot he plans to play again, will be one of those. "The PRP's will help a lot," e says. "You always get the mental reps you need going against air."
He won't be alone. Toa Lobendahn should be fully cleared in the near future after his ACL surgery. And Viane Talamaivao will be there as well, torn triceps -- not biceps s first reported -- or not, whether he's cleared for the PRP's or not until the beginning of August practice which now looks like it will come in July.
July you say? Yep, that's what it looks like now that the NCAA has forbidden any two-a-day practices and to get in the 29 USC is allowed before the opener, and with the days off required, it looks like USC will have to start practice July 26-27. If those dates sound familiar, that's when the Pac-12 Media Days were scheduled.
So there's going to have to be some mid-course correction here, much the way there was this spring. That's a given. There are the young guys like Vavae Malepeai and Andrew Vorhees who got their chance this spring. And Tyler Vaughns and Jamel Cook.
Those summer PRP's are really going to matter if this team plans to get to those 29 July-August practices -- nearly double the number for spring -- ready to go. Which is where the blend of veterans and newcomers will work it out, Clay says.
Start with Sam. "His maturity level is off the charts," Clay says. "He doesn't let anything get too big for him."
Two things not to forget, Clay says. It's not just the young guys this spring who will need to be led but the incoming freshmen. Don't forget them. They have to be brought along and the first with the chance to do that are USC's veterans.
"The teacher learns the more [he teaches]," Clay said.So it will be up to Sam and Nico, Chris and Cam, Toa and Rasheem, to make that quick connection with the newbies.
"I want the freshmen to come in and compete and not have to learn the system," Clay said. That's the thinking here. What comes next. Not what happened in the Spring Game other than this: "no injuries."
Clay has two things on his must-do list.And one reality that should give the Trojans time.
First what must happen. "Develop our young wide receivers," Clay says, "get that chemistry between Sam and them." And second, "Get our offensive line healthy."
Now for the reality of spring. "I'm very pleased with our defense," Clay said. And pleased that "there's no dropoff between the ones and the twos . . . that's the difference."
And now that Clay has been saying how essential a fast start is this season and the mistake he made last that he won't make again, this may be a team geared to do that. Because it looks like it's being built around a shut-down defense that will not allow anyone to run the ball on it.
While Clay says "I'd love to have both" -- offense and defense, if he had to pick, well, "Defense wins championships" and in a league where most everybody plays offense, the team that can play defense wins.
Which is where this seems to be headed. No matter what happened here Saturday. Because this wasn't about Saturday.
It's about the summer -- and September. And winning on those 12 straight games in 12 straight weeks this fall.
Jake Olson got his chance to snap on one of Michael Brown's seven field goal attempts and made a perfect snap on a made 33-yard field goal. "Awesome," Darnold said of his blind teammate. "His ability to do that is awesome. Right on the money. I hope we can get him into a game." . . . USC played all five quarterbacks on the spring roster Saturday including both walkons -- Thomas Fitts and Holden Thomas . . . Out of action Saturday: TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe (shoulder), DB Isaiah Langley (groin), WR Pie Young (groin), WR Deontay Burnett (head bump), OLB Porter Gustin (hand), OL Andrew Vorhees (back), TE Tyler Petite (hamstring) and OG Talamavao (triceps) . . . Have to say this: Colin Cowherd knows his USC football and his USC recruits. Not sure how he does it but his detailed observations are on the money. He thinks best two teams in the country going into the season are Florida State and USC . . . Here are today's LIVE FROM THE PRESS BOX notes: http://www.scout.com/college/usc/story/1771027-live-from-the-press-box-usc-spring-game