O/NSO - Trojan Huddle review

For the hard-core Trojan fans, Sunday's 94-play scrimmage provided a time to inspect individual play as well as team potential. Most left the Grand Old Lady with a unified conclusion; this exhibition of players isn't even close to the finished product that will travel from Los Angeles to Fayetteville in late August. Call it the parts of the sum.

The Obvious – Even forty-eight hours later, it still didn't matter at Sunday's Trojan Huddle that Thunder and Lightening were named Ryan Powdrell and Brandon Hancock. It still didn't matter that a right-handed quarterback named Mark Sanchez replaced a living lefty legend. It still didn't matter that injuries, no-name scrubeenies, and academics issues reduced Pete Carroll's club to a "skeleton" group. What mattered for the 15,000 Trojan fans in the Coliseum was that it was still USC football and most departed into the late breezy afternoon with a full day of cardinal and gold satisfaction.

The Not So Obvious – Sunday had the opening feel of a fall afternoon, even if many Trojan fans uttered two words – "Who's he?" For every unknown player like defensive tackle Jermyah Graves, offensive lineman Jonathan Richert, and running back Mike Brittingham, there was still All-America wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, All_America offensive tackle Sam Baker, and middle linebacker Oscar Lua. For the hard-core Trojan fans, Sunday's 94-play scrimmage provided a time to inspect individual play as well as team potential. Most left the Grand Old Lady with a unified conclusion; this exhibition of players isn't even close to the finished product that will travel from Los Angeles to Fayetteville in late August. Call it the parts of the sum.

The Obvious – Many Trojans, including head coach Pete Carroll, were alarmed at the 4 lost fumbles, 1 interception, 1 blocked PAT, 1 safety on a poor center punt snap.

The Not So Obvious – It's the sign of past success in which turnovers were almost non-existent during the Trojans past four years. However, leave it to Carroll, Mr. Turn-a-negative-into-a-positive, afterwards to say how proud he was of the defense's ability to create turnovers. There were also plenty of good things such as the improving performances of quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Mike McDonald, the running of Ryan Powdrell, the receiving of Patrick Turner and Brad Walker, and the linebacker play of Oscar Lua, Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, and Kaluka Maiava. Let's not forget the accuracy of placekicker Mario Danelo and Ryan Ting's 75-yard touchdown punt return. A national championship performance? Not quite, but a solid foundation to build upon. You get the picture.

The Obvious – Redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Sanchez (13-of-21) threw for 146 yards and one score while walk-on back-up, Mike McDonald (19-if-27), had 191 yards and three air scores and one interception.

The Not So Obvious – Although McDonald had the bigger numbers, we thought that Sanchez looked much improved on Sunday compared to last Saturday evening's closed scrimmage in the Coliseum. Sunday's Sanchez numbers were mainly against the first-team defense and there is certainly something to be said about that. Mark showed a quick release, some pinpoint accuracy, and some boyish enthusiasm. Not that the kid was perfect, he is a talented work in freshman progress. He was flagged for an intentional grounding call that was a rookie mistake, but better in April than in the fall. As for McDonald, he continued to show he can move the club, threw some nice balls, and continued to show good decision-making. His 18-yard scoring toss to Patrick Turner was a real big-time completion.

The Obvious – Running back Ryan Powdrell carried the ball for 81 yards in 10 carries while Brandon Hancock rushed for 21 yards on six carries, including a 15-yard scoring jaunt.

The Not So Obvious – If you didn't know better, you could have said on Sunday that Powdrell looked like a poor man's version of LenDale White. Ryan continued to show he can run to daylight, change direction, and move the pile. However, he continued to also show he can also fumble as he did after a 51-yard gain and fumble issues have been part of the Powdrell package this spring. Nobody loses a game in the spring, but the fall is another matter. The 260-pounder, however, could end up being a huge surprise come fall… if he can keep his hands on to the pigskin.

The Obvious – Junior offensive lineman Alatini Malu started at left guard in place of the injured Jeff Byers.

The Not So Obvious – Malu was a poster boy for the Trojans' suddenly thinning interior offensive line. With Byers out (back), guard Drew Radovich restricted, and the recent announcement that offensive lineman Matt Spanos is under academic watch, it was a stinging reminder during the Huddle how great depth can suddenly disappear. The beneficiary of the Spanos "slip-up" was right tackle Kyle Williams, whose starting job appeared to be in some serious jeopardy. However, redshirt freshmen tackles Nick Howell and Charles Brown could be moved along at a quicker pace should it become necessary. Both had their moments.

The Obvious – Depending on the numbers, a back-up center is needed for all-star Ryan Kalil.

The Not So Obvious – With Byers and Spanos out, perhaps the most noticeable center addition on Sunday was Alatini Malu, who pretended to snap the ball to quarterback Mike McDonald as Mike simply bent under Malu holding on to the ball.

The Obvious – The number 55 is considered reserved for players expected to live up to the likes of a Junior Seau, Willie McGinest, and Chris Claiborne.

The Not So Obvious – On Sunday, junior linebacker Keith Rivers gave a glimpse why he was accorded that famous Trojan defensive number. Rivers, who is now healthy, made a number of plays, although he paid the price one time when he was bowled over by running back Ryan Powdrell, who went for ten yards. On Sunday, Rivers looked like the model everybody expected when he came out of Lake Mary, Florida.

The Obvious – For the most part, it was a delightful southern California afternoon for the Coliseum faithful.

The Not So Obvious – However, in the late afternoon, the wind became so pronounced that it actually took the temperature clock pointer and swayed it from its permanent 72-degree fixture into a mechanical windshield wiper.

The Obvious – Many of the "experts" in the stands were waiting to watch the performances of freshman defensive tackle Walker Lee Ashley and junior defensive end Jeff Schweiger.

The Not So Obvious – Ashley performed with some "hostility" and made some plays, but also showed his inexperience at times, one time getting confused on the defensive alignment before the ball was snapped. However, the kid showed some spunk and it will be interesting to see if he stays on the defensive side of the ball. As for Schweiger, he broke a thumb on Sunday, but he and Ashley combined to break up a developing screen pass attempt by Sanchez. All in all, it certainly looks like new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Nick Holt and his relentless energy has injected some high enthusiasm into the front four, thus living up to his highly anticipated return to Troy. FYI, it appears that defensive end Kyle Moore, who knocked down a pass, will remain at that spot as any discussion of the 255-pounder moving inside is no longer on the table.

The Obvious – Junior Fred Davis showed flashes of potential greatness with a fine performance that included a 26-yard touchdown reception from McDonald.

The Not So Obvious – Talk about maturing and growing up, it's almost textbook the way Fast Freddie has now slipped "under" the radar screen in Pete Carroll's program. From the self-inflicting wounds of his turbulent freshmen season to a potentially huge, productive tight end, Davis showed on Sunday All-Pac-10 potential and we were reminded that, no, the coaching staff hasn't forgotten the tight end. An obvious disappoint was the non-playing of transfer tight end Gerald Washington, who is another being held out for academic reasons.

The Obvious – The smell of Coliseum food was in the air, thanks to the elimination of In-N-Out burgers.

The Not So Obvious – As for no In-N-Out, the reduced cost of Huddle admission to $10 probably helped with the gate, and there were enough vendor selections to offset the change in menu. One of the more popular items was the teriyaki chicken, which was being "turned" on some open BBQs. So who was surprised to see beer flowing at the concession stands? Hey, it wasn't a real game, Dr. Sample. However, the smell of Kettle Korn was in the air and wouldn't you know it, the popular food item has been expanded to now include caramel and cheddar cheese. There is nothing better than writing the O/NSO column with a gigantic bag of the stuff by one's side.

The Obvious – Trojan fans were treated to a number of giveaways throughout the afternoon

The Not So Obvious – The most popular appeared to be the shirts that were being bazooka-ed into the stands. Perhaps the best of the giveaways was the opportunity to take a picture with Traveler, the famed Trojan horse, near Tunnel 9.

The Obvious – The Coliseum attempted to use rap music between plays.

The Not So Obvious – With all due respect to our good friend Dave Baker, the Arena Football League commish, it was something we would expect at his highly successful "Baker League." More than a few fans weren't overly receptive to the idea of canned music between plays. It should be mentioned that a number of Art Bartner's band were on hand early to provide the game atmosphere and that was more than enough for most dressed in spirit attire. Throw in an appearance of the Trojan Song Girls and it certainly beats the canned music.

The Obvious – Junior placekicker Mario Danelo was successful on field goals of 30 and 38 yards.

The Not So Obvious – Danelo continued to reassure Trojan fans that he is very accurate inside of 40 yards. Considering the substantial loss of offensive fire-power from last year's all-time unit, Trojan fans should expect to see more of Danelo than they saw in 2005.

The Obvious – Linebackers Oscar Lua (5 tackles) and Rey Maualuga (9 tackles) have battled all spring for the starting middle linebacker position.

The Not So Obvious – At this point in time, it would appear that not only has the senior Lua fully recovered from his ACL surgery of years ago, but he is noticeably faster and quicker to the ball. Combined with his experience, Lua seems to have held off the precious sophomore Rey Rey at this time. Lua administered one of the hardest hits of the day when he smashed reserve sophomore corner Jim Abbott on an attempted punt return. One linebacker who made his presence felt was Hawaii's Kaluka Maiava, who recorded nine tackles on the day. At times, it seemed that Kaluka was everywhere and in on everything. The sophomore had a good day.

The Obvious – Former Trojan legends, linebacker Clay Mathews and quarterback Paul McDonald, played on the 1977 team together, a team which defeated Texas A&M, 47-28, in the Bluebonnet Bowl.

The Not So Obvious – So it must have been some moment when Clay Jr. intercepted Mike McDonald, Paul's son, for a pass intended for sophomore Patrick Turner. Mathews, who may have been the most effective defender on the field with one interception, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries, is looking more and more like a solid contributor for 2006.

The Obvious – Sophomore receiver Patrick Turner lead all receivers with 85 yards and two touchdown receptions.

The Not So Obvious – Okay, so most Trojans were beginning to question Turner's manhood when it came to catching the ball in traffic. Turner showed Sunday that those "short arms" had grown to match his reputation coming out of Tennessee. Patrick made a number of major league catches in traffic and the only thing left to do is accomplish the same feat in the fall. The kid has really learned how to use his big frame to his advantage. You talk an opponent's nightmare? That haunted mansion was previewed on Sunday when Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith, and Turner were all in the game at the same time.

The Obvious – The Trojans previewed the possible replacements for departed punter, Tom Malone.

The Not So Obvious – One of the turnovers was a bad snap over the head of one punter candidate, Troy Van Blarcom. Now you really have to work at it to snap the ball of Troy, considering the sophomore stands six-feet-three. As it were, the top punter of the day was sophomore Taylor Odegard, who had a couple of 50-yard efforts. This area looks to be uncharted waters and Odegard, from Mercer Island, Washington, may have made some strides.

The Obvious – One secondary performer who has shown promise is former Notre Dame star, Cary Harris, who was in on a number of plays.

The Not So Obvious – However, the sophomore caught some heat from Pete Carroll when he tried to intercept a pass intended for receiver Steve Smith, who caught the ball and went up field for further yardage. Carroll spent the next two plays "tutoring" Harris on playing proper technique.

The Obvious – Pat Ruel's offensive line is expected to be a big strength next season if everybody returns healthy.

The Not So Obvious – One player who is certainly healthy is All-America left tackle Sam Baker, who made the key block during Brandon Hancock's 15-yard scoring run.

The Obvious – Much has been made this spring over the performance of walk-on junior Brad Walker, who was second in receptions on Sunday with 75 yards on seven grabs.

The Not So Obvious – Mr. Walker, now up to 215 pounds, continued to turn heads with a number of precision routes that ended with catches from both Sanchez and McDonald. After one fine 18-yard catch and run, All-Pac-10 center Ryan Kalil ran up to Walker and gave him a "great job" helmet tap. It will be interesting to see if Walker, who had a 26-yard scoring catch, is given a scholarship at the end of spring. The former Foothill High star has certainly made a case for consideration.

The Obvious – Pete Carroll is known to be the guru of his style of 4-3 defense.

The Not So Obvious – It did catch the attention of a few "coaches"when the Trojans were in a 5-2 defensive with three down linemen and two stand-up defensive ends in Clay Mathews and Keith Rivers.

The Obvious – There was an autography session after the Huddle and numerous players stayed for more than an hour at selected tables near Tunnels 1 and 11.

The Not So Obvious – Prior to the end of the Huddle, a large group of fans next to the famed Coliseum tunnel were getting autographs. No, they weren't on the field with Trojans. After careful inspection, the fans were massing around incoming freshmen Allen Bradford and Shareece Wright. Now that's star power. BTW, the buzz continues about the possibility of Bradford eventually being given a shot at running back, especially with the current state of depth at the ball carrying position. A-Train Allen has shown little interest in making the change, although his own father believes that's his best position. Just ask coach Bruce Rollinson's Mater Dei Monarchs about Bradford's running back ability. Last time the O/NSO checked, No. 21 was well over 200 yards against the Mighty Monarchs and Rollinson was still shaking his head.

The Obvious – Showing no signs of surgery, junior quarterback John David Booty was in attendance on Sunday.

The Not So Obvious – J.D., who was wearing a yellow No. 10, stayed around after the Huddle and signed autographs in front of Tunnel 1. Speaking of those autograph sessions, the lines were longer than Disneyland's Space Mountain on July 4th.

The Obvious – The general impression is that Sunday's Trojan Huddle is the conclusion of spring ball.

The Not So Obvious – In reality, spring practice ends this Friday afternoon after Tuesday and Thursday exercises. Next up for fans will be the release of the two-deep depth chart, which may or may not have some surprises due to all the aforementioned issues. While the O/NSO will have our own appraisal following Friday's practice, there is one thing safe to say, that depth chart will be as solid as quick sand and that's just the way Pete Carroll probably wants it. Competiton, baby.


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