Amid chants from the spirit leaders and band of “Beat the Tide, they will lose,” approximately 23,000 fans gathered in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Saturday afternoon for USC’s spring football game.
“I love being here,” junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “This is one of the best stadiums in the world to play in and for me to be here … it’s amazing.”
The squad split into Cardinal and White teams, but did not play a traditional game, instead participating in situational drills because of the defensive line’s continued lack of depth.
Before the game, head coach Clay Helton said he was proud of the team’s progress but acknowledged that there was work remaining.
“We’re further ahead than I thought we would be,” Helton said. “Thank God we have 29 practices left before our first game.”
Saturday’s game was the last practice of spring camp, and with it the quarterback battle raged on. Helton said he would review the game tape and, if he was satisfied and saw significant enough separation, could name a starter as early as Monday. Otherwise, the battle could last until fall camp.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold took the first snap of the day and handed the ball off to sophomore tailback Ronald Jones II, followed by a touchdown throw from redshirt junior quarterback Max Browne to Smith-Schuster.
“Coach Helton has a great dilemma having two great quarterbacks,” Browne said. “The best guy is going to play, and it’s my job to work my talent and come ready to go in the fall.”
Smith-Schuster said he would spend time taking reps with both Browne and Darnold until a starting quarterback is named.
“We don’t know who the quarterback is, so if we’re going to get better I have to learn how to adjust to both of them,” Smith-Schuster said.
During the run drills, the wealth continued to be spread as Jones, sophomore tailback Aca’Cedric Ware and senior tailback Justin Davis all saw a significant number of carries and reached the end zone on multiple occasions.
“The great thing is with the speed of our running backs, when you see [Davis] and [Jones] … they really have speed to get around the edge,” Helton said. “I thought they did a great job not only running the ball today, but I was impressed with how they caught the ball out of the backfield — there weren’t a lot of drops from them.”
The offensive unit stole the show from a short-handed defense that was even shorter by the end of the day, losing sophomore defensive tackle Noah Jefferson to a hyperextended elbow.
“We are a little bit limited defensively from a personnel standpoint,” Helton said. “We limited [the] package today.”
Near the end of the game, Helton invited the crowd to cheer as redshirt freshman long snapper Jake Olson, who is blind, entered the game. After a standing ovation, Olson snapped for two successful field goal attempts.
“To walk out in front of these fans and say, ‘I’m going to get the opportunity to snap in front of my Trojan family,’ and to hit two dead on the money, how special a kid is he?” Helton said.
However, the Alabama Crimson Tide looms in the distance for a Trojan team that has now finished their spring ball.
“These kids know how special it is to go to Dallas Cowboys stadium and play Alabama, we all know that, we look forward to the opportunity,” Helton said.
This post was updated at 12:52 p.m. on April 17.