As practice wound down on Tuesday, energy and spirits were high. The offense ran a series of plays against the second-string defense, shouts of encouragement erupting from the sidelines as a corner broke up a pass in the end zone.
In the final play of practice, freshman wide receiver Cary Angeline roped in a pass and wove in between two defenders, trotting into the endzone. He was quickly followed by junior wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and true freshman wide receiver Daniel Imatorbhebhe, who chased down the field after him, cheering loudly. Smith-Schuster and Angeline leapt into the air, bouncing off each other and smacking helmets as they jogged to the huddle shoulder-to-shoulder.
It was the type of practice that left the whole team buzzing with excitement as they left the field for the locker room. Both coaches and players praised the performance of the offense and the defense for creating an aggressive, competitive atmosphere throughout practice.
“That’s kind of the stuff we need for everybody to get better to face any team like Stanford,” said senior tailback Justin Davis. “The better we can simulate what Stanford’s gonna give us, the better we’re going to do in the game.”
Similar rounds of full-out play throughout the rest of the week will be necessary for the team as they head into Saturday’s match-up against Stanford. After two losses against the Cardinal last season — punctuated by a 22-41 rout in the Pac-12 Championship game — the Trojans will need to prepare to grind out a physical game this weekend.
The Christian McCaffrey effect
The knock-out punch for USC the last time they faced Stanford was junior running back and punt returner Christian McCaffrey. The running back tallied 464 yards against the Trojans, slicing apart the defense and spearheading a third-quarter surge that led to the Trojans’ eventual loss.
It was considered a snub when McCaffrey, as a sophomore, didn’t receive the Heisman for his 3,864 all-purpose yard season. This year, he returns with a chip on his shoulder and a set of wide receivers who can open the field for the run game. Switching back and forth from running back to slot receiver and even wide-out, McCaffrey will clearly be a problem for the defense for all four quarters.
“He’s all over the place,” said head coach Clay Helton. “So it’s kind of like finding Waldo. You have to be able to locate him.”
Although McCaffrey will put constant pressure on the offense, his presence also creates pressure for the Trojan running backs to produce similar yards and scoring opportunities. Davis said that playing against a hyped running back like McCaffrey only gives himself and his teammates a competitive edge to prove themselves.
“That drives us to do better,” Davis said. “With all the success he has, that makes us want to work hard to get our names out there. We’ve got backs just as talented at USC and we want to show that.”
There were a handful of players missing or sitting out for parts of practice on Tuesday. Missing from practice was senior offensive tackle Zach Banner, who took a day off of practice due to the stomach flu. He is expected to return to practice on Wednesday after taking Tuesday to rest.
“Nothing to be worried about,” junior offensive lineman Damien Mama said. “He commented on my Instagram post, so he should be fine.”
Sophomore defensive back Marvell Tell III practiced with the team but didn’t participate in any contact drills after suffering a head collision against Utah State on Saturday. He will meet with a doctor one more time before being cleared for contact play.
After suffering a collision that injured both his ribs and his thigh, sophomore tailback Ronald Jones II also sat out for parts of practice. Although his ribs are feeling better, Helton said that the thigh contusions suffered in the first quarter of the Utah State game are taking longer to heal than expected. Helton is hopeful that Jones will be recover quickly enough to return in full health, especially on the heels of his explosive performance against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship last year.
“We’d really like a healthy [Jones],” Helton said. “That really helps you anytime. That speed is always something we want. I’m really looking forward to getting him back.”