O/NSO: Huddle review edition

With a backdrop of a special Coliseum pre-game peristyle ceremony honoring Trojan All-Americans and national championship teams from 1923 to the present, Trojan senior tailback Hershel Dennis provided his own "Welcome Back" ceremony during Saturday's Trojan Huddle scrimmage with much of the spark and explosion that made him a starter and household name in 2003.

The Obvious – With a backdrop of a special Coliseum pre-game peristyle ceremony honoring Trojan All-Americans and national championship teams from 1923 to the present, Trojan senior tailback Hershel Dennis provided his own "Welcome Back" ceremony during Saturday's Trojan Huddle scrimmage with much of the spark and explosion that made him a starter and household name in 2003.

The Not So Obvious – Just ask the 15,000 that were "HD" witnesses It was a stunning performance by Dennis, who once started in front of eventual Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and future NFLer LenDale White. If you read the O/NSO on a regular basis, you know we aren't prone to hyperbole, but we've got to admit that Hershel provided Saturday's scrimmage with the type of electricity not seen since the departure of those fellas, once referred to as Thunder and Lightening. Hershel will petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility after he graduates next month, and if he gets eligible, he just might become the Justin Fargas of 2007.

The Obvious – The Trojans clearly showed on both sides of the ball on Saturday that they are certainly worthy of all the No. 1 hype that figures to hit the newsstands in the form of college football magazines in June.

The Not So Obvious – Saturday's scrimmage offensively was the most dynamic we have seen in some time. There is a different "feel" to this year's offense, and it kept the attention of most of the fans, not any easy task. Despite all the positives that were so self-evident, so were the turnover bugs that brought back some 2006 upset flashbacks. Five interceptions by the defense were impressive, but depressive for an offensive that looked explosive when not turning the ball over. The interceptions almost seemed synchronized, and when center Matt Spanos was forced to leave the game with an ankle injury, the fumbled snap syndrome also reared its ugly head. All this mischief is a reality if the Trojans are to make it to New Orleans in January. No question about it, the offensive self-destruction will need to be corrected or Trojan fans may be forced to relive those horrid memories of Oregon State and UCLA.

The Obvious – Both offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and running backs coach Todd McNair were keeping a close eye on the performance of Hershel Dennis.

The Not So Obvious – Asked if he was surprised by the Huddle performance of Dennis, "Sark" said, "Yeah. Hershel is a very good player. I think he's going to be a very good player for us. I think he is getting back into the groove. It's great to have him back out here. I think what you like about Hershel is that he always adds a little excitement. As soon as he gets in that first or second series, he gets in and catches a screen and goes like 60 yards for a touchdown. That's what he brings to your team."

The Obvious – In some respects, the inspirational story of Hershel Dennis is reminiscent of former Trojan tailback Justin Fargas, who also hoped to cram injury frustration into one final senior year.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO asked Sarkisian if he agreed that there are some comparisons between the circumstances of Dennis and Fargas. The Trojans' offensive coordinator said, "I think so. As Justin knew and Hershel knows, this is kind of their last shot. They bring a lot of energy and they bring that ‘every opportunity I get I am going to make the most of it.'"

The Obvious – There is no coach on the staff that will have his work cut out for him more than running back coach Todd McNair, who was pleased with the Hershel Dennis' performance, but knows this is just a beginning due to the full cupboard of superstar tailbacks, present and future.

The Not So Obvious – After the scrimmage, McNair said, "Hershel did a great job. We're real happy with him. We're excited that he is back. He has been able to get back and play at the level he is playing now. I am happy to see him get through this and get through healthy. I am not worried about him playing because he's a veteran, not for a minute. I am just starting to get out of the wincing every time he gets hit. He's a competitor, man, one of the top competitors in the program. We're real happy with him."

The Obvious – Most fans were surprised at the performance of Hershel Dennis, and after No. 34's big touchdown off a screen pass, one man stood up and yelled, "I told you he would be back. I told you!"

The Not So Obvious – So was running backs coach Todd McNair surprised with Dennis on Saturday? McNair said, "No. Like I said, it's just a matter of him being healthy. He did what I expected him to do out here. He's a veteran, he's experienced, and it shows." Does today's performance help in the running back competition? "It's way too early, man. We haven't even begun to get down to the game plan evaluation stuff on who is going to play and all that stuff. We're just trying to get all these guys better, all of them, and keep them healthy and get them back to camp to improve them." So is Hershel in the mix, coach? McNair diplomatically said, " Oh yeah, but they are all in the mix."

The Obvious – On Saturday, the Trojans' offense certainly looked more explosive than last season and seems to always be one step of the defensive recognition.

The Not So Obvious – Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian gave his appraisal of Saturday's exercise. Sark said, "I thought the offense was up and down. I thought we did some good things. I thought the running backs played well, the young receivers really stepped up and did some nice things with the ball in their hands. Obviously we can't turn the ball over like that and expect to be a good offensive football team. I thought we moved the ball well. Guys made plays, but turnovers which is the theme of our program to protect the ball, we didn't do that today."

The Obvious – Hershel Dennis rushed for 39 yards on 8 carries and had 2 catches for 49 yards, scoring on a 2-yard run and a 43-yard screen pass from Mark Sanchez.

The Not So Obvious – There is nothing more one can add to Hershel's performance other than to say that he looked as good or better than this spring's running backs. That is to take nothing away from the efforts of deserved starter C.J. Gable, who was out with a neck injury, Chauncey Washington who looked determined on Saturday, improving Allen Bradford or even the revitalized Desmond Reed, but Hershel reminded all of us why he was one of the premier prep tailbacks at Long Beach Poly and a 2003 starter for the Trojans.

The Obvious – Fullback Stanley Havili had four receptions for 30 yards and a 1-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Mike McDonald.

The Not So Obvious – Although he did not have a rushing attempt, Havili showed why he will be a vital cog in the 2007 Trojan offense. Coming out of the backfield, Stanley is almost unstoppable with those tailback skills. Admitting he was a none-blocker out of high school, it will be interesting to see when and how he finally carries the ball, but he definitely is reminding some of the dynamic that was missing when Ryan Powdrell went down. And while we're at it, it certainly caught some by surprise to see senior tight end Fred Davis line up at fullback. Used in that capacity, Davis was able to snare a pass or two for good yardage. Let's not forget that Fred also rushed for over 600 yards his senior season at Toledo (OH) Rogers.

The Obvious – Senior Matt Spanos started the game at center until he was felled early with an ankle injury.

The Not So Obvious – Until the injury, Spanos was feeling pretty good about his own Saturday performance. Matt said, " I felt good, man. I had a lot of confidence going out there. I mean all the guys are really supportive and stuff. It was good to be out there." On the injury to his right ankle that had him departing the Coliseum floor with a "boot" and on crutches, Matt said, "I got rolled up on the side and sprained my ankle. I think somebody just rolled on to it and I felt it pop. You could tell I was hurting." Matt gave the offense thumbs up by saying, "I thought we really did well. We misfired on the interception in the beginning, but overall I thought we did good." So where does Matt now stand on his academic status? Despite the painful injury, Matt managed to get in a joke by saying, "I stand on one hobbled ankle. Hopefully, I can still keep this opportunity going into the fall. I mean this (the ankle) will take a little while to get back, but once I get back I should be good to go."

The Obvious – All-Pac-10 quarterback John David Booty completed 15-of-17 passes for 2 touchdowns

The Not So Obvious – While Booty passed for 146 yards on the day, there was the sense that his two interceptions were a stark reminder there is still work to be done with his game. John David has come a long way and his decision-making has improved dramatically since last season, but there is this gnawing feeling that if the Trojans are going to be national champions, much of that opportunity rests in Booty's ability to not throw the misguided interception.

The Obvious – Sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez was 11-of-23 passing for 194 yards, but had 2 passes picked off. McDonald was 5-of-7 for 64 yards.

The Not So Obvious –Mark had two nice touchdown strikes, but was bitten twice by the interception bug and, quite frankly, didn't have the type of day that we have seen on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field this spring. It just wasn't the interceptions, Mark just seemed plain out of rhythm. You could see his frustration in his body language. He'll have better days, but this wasn't one of them.

The Obvious – Much of the media was in hot pursuit of potential quarterback transfer Mitch Mustain, the former Arkansas Razorback starter and prep phenom.

The Not So Obvious – It was like playing a game of Where's Waldo as media members asked each other if they had seen Mustain, who arrived in Los Angeles on Friday. One report had him watching the Trojans from the Coliseum press box spinning a football. Most observers figured that he would be seen standing or sitting with former Arkansas and Springdale High teammate Damian Williams. One does have to wonder how much pressure, if any, did Mark Sanchez feel with Mustain's presence, and how much did Sanchez's below par performance have in Mustain's evaluation process?

The Obvious – There were a number of recruits in attendance on Saturday, and one big recruit who was hard to miss was offensive tackle Matt Meyer from Stockton Lincoln.

The Not So Obvious – The O/NSO caught up with the mammoth Trojan verbal on the Coliseum turf after Saturday's scrimmage, and Matt was very excited being on the field. Matt said, "This was pretty nice because you are little bit closer than you are in a normal game so you really get to see everything. You got to see everyone come in, not just one or two players. You can really see switching of positions and see who does what for the upcoming season." So where did Matt concentrate? The national recruit said, "I definitely watched the offensive tackles the whole game, definitely. I'll be coming it as that, so you really have to watch to see what they do, either good or bad, and fix it and see what you need to do.

The Obvious – Much like this year's incoming freshman fullback Jordan Campbell, who also was in attendance, Matt Meyers still can't believe he is going to be a Trojan.

The Not So Obvious – Although he still has a year of high school ball to play, Matt, who told the O/NSO that he is now 6-7 and 5/8ths and 292 pounds, revealed, "It still hasn't hit me yet, I am not going to lie. I mean every player here is on ESPN every other week, so being in this position it still feels like a fantasy."

The Obvious – Sophomore wide receiver Travon Patterson (5-11, 180) had 4 receptions for 76 yards, catching 16 and 33-yard scoring tosses along with a dazzling 78-yard touchdown punt return.

The Not So Obvious – Maybe it's the size or maybe it's the style, but, geez, this former Long Beach Poly speedster sure reminds us of the late Kevin Williams, a Trojan receiver from the late 70s. Known as "The Bug," Williams, too, was small in stature (5-9, 165) and big on explosion. Yes, we know that Patterson is listed as bigger than Williams, but don't believe everything you read in a program, but we figure you knew that. What you should believe is that there is an exciting young star waiting in the wings.

The Obvious – Sophomore receiver Vidal Hazelton had four receptions for 75 yards and a 34-yard touchdown from pass from John David Booty.

The Not So Obvious – Hazelton made some dandy moves on his 34-yard catch and run from Booty, but concluded his scoring jaunt with a little New York City strut, which resulted in a yellow flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. FYI, let's give junior tight end Jimmy Miller some props for a big block down field that allowed Vidal a chance to perform down "Broadway."

The Obvious – One of the expected starting defensive tackles for the Trojans is junior Fili Moala, who went to the bench with an early, undisclosed injury.

The Not So Obvious – Fili's replacement was sophomore Alex Parsons, who promptly showed Trojan fans why the coaches are high are this high-motor player from Irvine Woodbridge. Parsons also had an interception to go along with a sack. Not bad for a former high school linebacker turned defensive tackle. One defensive player we would have also liked to have seen perform was redshirt freshman tackle Derek Simmons, who was also out with an injury.

The Obvious – Another incoming Trojan prep All-America in attendance was Oaks Christian tailback Marc Tyler, who looked pretty darn good after suffering that near catastrophic leg injury last season.

The Not So Obvious – Marc told the O/NSO that he just had "surgery to take out the screws and I feel like I have a new leg!" Marc says he now feels great and fully expects to be fully ready for the ultimate Trojan running back competition this August. Marc said that before the pins were removed this week, those pins were mighty uncomfortable.

The Obvious – There was a rumor this week that the Lawry's Prime Rib booth would be open for business on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – We are quite pleased to confirm that your humble correspondent and our publisher, Garry P., found Lawry's to be open for Coliseum business and as pleasing as Hershel Dennis's Saturday performance. The prime rib sandwich was accompanied by potato chips, although we seem to recall that the meal during the regular season usually came with creamed corn. Maybe it was the fact that Mr. and Mrs. O/NSO ate at the Lawry's in the South Coast Plaza on Friday night, but Saturday's Coliseum Lawry's was much better than South Coast Lawry's.

The Obvious – The Trojans premiered their 2007 schedule poster at Saturday's Huddle, and each fan was given the large, impressive "horizontally long" color poster.

The Not So Obvious – The poster, which many fans used later for the post-scrimmage autograph session, is the best we've seen in years and props to the parties responsible. With the theme "Living the Dream," the middle of the poster is the peristyle end of the Coliseum and is flanked on the left by Chauncey Washington, Kevin Ellison, Terrell Thomas, Fred Davis, John David Booty, Lawrence Jackson, Keith Rivers, and C.J. Gable, while the right side is flanked by Josh Pinkard, Brian Cushing, Chilo Rachal, Taylor Mays, Sedrick Ellis, Rey Maualuga, Sam Baker, and Patrick Turner. Sound like too many? No, not really when you see the poster and it wouldn't surprise us if some fans frame it; it's that good.

The Obvious – Servite All-America linebacker Chris Galippo was another incoming Trojan spectator on Saturday.

The Not So Obvious – Chris, who told the O/NSO that he is weighing 240 pounds, said the recruiting rat race went up a notch when the Bruins upset the Trojans last December before the signing period. Chris said, "After that victory, UCLA was constantly text messaging me with ‘eight-claps.' I just deleted them. They and Notre Dame recruited me the hardest, but UCLA recruited me the hardest."

The Obvious – Prior to Saturday's scrimmage, there was a special plaque ceremony at the peristyle end of the Coliseum Memorial Court of Honor honoring Trojan All-America football players from 1923 to the present along with those immortal Trojan national championship teams.

The Not So Obvious – The Voice of the Trojans and WeAreSC blogster Pete Arbogast was the MC and did a masterful job in welcoming the guests and interviewing some of the honorees, which included the likes of Big Hal Bedsole, Notre Dame killer linebacker Adrian Young, and tough offensive linemen John Vella (photo) and Bill Bain, not to mention some tailback named Anthony Davis. Bain said, "You know, all those 12 years in the NFL, and I blocked for Eric Dickerson, don't compare to the two years I played at USC. I just want to thank John McKay."

The Obvious – Troy's first Heisman Trophy winner was tailback Mike Garrett, current Trojan athletic director.

The Not So Obvious – Iron Mike was gracious enough to spend a few brief moments with the O/NSO to give us his thoughts on the new Coliseum Trojan All-America plaque that resides on one of the pillars in the peristyle end. Mike told us the idea for the plaque was the brainchild of Margaret Farnum, chief administrative officer of the Coliseum. Mike said that Farnum has no real connection to the Trojans, but she was the one that created the idea.

The Obvious – Returning Trojan offensive tackle Sam Baker has a chance to be a two-time All-America selection.

The Not So Obvious – Baker is the last named engraved on the Coliseum plaque but certainly not the only one from the Pete Carroll era. As a matter of O/NSO honor, we recognize other Carroll All-America members that now live forever and ever inside the Coliseum. Those players include Troy Polamalu, Carson Palmer, Mike Williams, Jacob Rogers, Kenechi Udeze, Tom Malone, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Shaun Cody, Matt Grootegoed, Mike Patterson, Lofa Tatupu, Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Taitusi Lutui, Darnell Bing, and Baker.

The Obvious – All-Pac-10 linebacker Rey Maualuga lead the Trojans in tackles on Saturday with eight.

The Not So Obvious – During one play, Trojan public address announcer Dennis Packer said that Desmond Reed was stopped on "a sandwich tackle by Rey Maualuga." Hey, when Rey Rey hits you, it ain't no baloney. Just ask that UCLA quarterback across town if he felt the Maualuga mustard and mayonnaise.

The Obvious – One of the biggest pre-misconceptions last season was that safety Taylor Mays did not like to come up and make a big hit.

The Not So Obvious – Wrong, wrong, wrong, Beano Cook.. Now a sophomore, Mays proved once again on Saturday that he could come up and deliver a blow with the best of them.

The Obvious – There was the usual amount of Trojan merchandise on sale as fans entered the press box side of the Coliseum.

The Not So Obvious – One of our favorite items was the Traveler mouse pad, showing the famed Trojans horse and rider trotting by the stands of the Coliseum. A number of fans seemed to be interested in the white bedroom slippers with the Trojan logo. As predicted, there was the 50% off of some Rose Bowl merchandise.

The Obvious – And finally, after the scrimmage, Pete Carroll said, "I think we are ahead of where we were last year at this point."

The Not So Obvious – And judging by the long, but well mannered autograph lines waiting to get the signatures of their Cardinal and Gold heroes, Trojans fans agreed with the coach that they, too, were very much "Living the Dream" of this year's poster schedule. What better way to spend a Saturday than at the Coliseum watching Pete Carroll's lads prepare for No. 1? As the O/NSO was walking out the Coliseum gate, we turned to WeAreSC colleagues Garry P. and Scott Schrader and said, "You know, guys, leaving the Coliseum after a gratifying day of Trojan football kind of reminds me of leaving Disneyland as a kid. You kind of feel you just want to turn around and go back in."


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