USC football kicked off the final week of spring practice yesterday at Cromwell Field. With just two practices remaining before this weekend’s spring game, the Trojans took the field in a practice that was open to the public and gave fans a small taste of what to expect this Saturday and beyond.
Rain or shine
It drizzled throughout practice, with temperatures dropping into the 50s. The weather may not have boosted the fan turnout, but the team embraced the rain as a challenge to run practice in unfamiliar conditions.
“It was cool that it rained — it’s something we’re not used to,” senior quarterback Cody Kessler said. “When we go to Oregon or we go play Washington or wherever, it could be a [factor].”
The rain certainly didn’t affect Kessler or the rest of the Trojan offense, which looked very sharp on a day focused on deep throws down the field. Late in practice, Kessler took advantage of a blown coverage to find redshirt sophomore wideout Steven Mitchell, who hauled in the pass and ran it in for a 90-yard touchdown. Kessler’s next throw hit sophomore Adoree’ Jackson streaking down the sideline for another big gain.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian was pleased with his quarterback’s throwing, and was equally happy about the variety of targets Kessler had at his disposal.
“[Throwing deep] has been a point of emphasis for the last couple practices … and it showed up today,” Sarkisian said. “And it was a variety of guys doing it: Steven Mitchell, Adoree’, [junior] wide receiver Darreus Rogers, and [redshirt junior] wide receiver Isaac Whitney, so that part was really cool.”
USC now aims to incorporate more deep throws into its game plan, and coach Sarkisian set the bar at eight per game.
“I worked for Al Davis for a year … and his theory was that you should throw two deep balls a quarter,” he said. “That makes the defense weary of [getting] beat deep, and that makes a lot of the things underneath a lot easier.”
Sarkisian did note that life would get harder for the offense once Jackson returned to playing cornerback in Thursday’s practice, and he praised his defense for “winning practice” by stopping the offense in a best-of-five challenge between the two units.
“We’re going to have games when…we’ll be counting on our defense to get that critical stop at the end to go win the game, and that’s exactly what happened today,” he said. “The defense found a way to get three stops in a row on third down to win the finish challenge.”
Though there is still one practice left before the spring game, anticipation for this weekend is building, as fans are eager to see their talented Trojan squad in some semblance of game action, and the players are ready to show off what they have been working on this spring.
“I think people will be surprised and excited about some of these new faces that have been stepping into big time roles and have been playing well,” Kessler said.
Both Kessler and senior tailback Tre Madden praised their offensive line, which has provided great protection for the quarterback and has set gaping holes for runners throughout the spring.
“The offensive line has improved a lot,” Madden said. “They have a lot more experience than last year and there are some beasts up front, so they are going to be fun to run behind.”
Sarkisian was not sure what the format of the spring game would be, but did confirm that it would not be a full game and would more likely involve running plays with a scoring system for both the offense and the defense.
“We’re just not exactly where we need to be depth chart-wise,” he said. “I would love to split up teams and play a game and split up the staff, but we’re just not there yet.”
The spring game kicks off at 3 p.m. this Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Sarkisian said that Adoree’ Jackson is currently working on becoming a bigger deep threat on offense for the Trojans.
“Adoree’ has been very good in the short-intermediate game and we really feel like his next level is catching those deep balls,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian could not confirm whether Jackson would play on both sides of the ball in the spring game.
Tre Madden was glad to finally participate in some higher contact drills in practice after being held out of them for most of the spring, but there is no indication yet of how involved he will be this Saturday.
Sophomore safety John Plattenburg is currently nursing an ankle injury.
Senior defensive lineman Claude Pelon missed practice to focus on academics, Sarkisian said.
Thursday’s practice will be open to the public at 3:30 p.m. at Cromwell Field.