On Thursday, the football team practiced at Howard Jones Field for the final time this spring. The Trojans will conclude spring ball workouts this Saturday with the team’s spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Thursday’s practice saw USC place a heavy emphasis on situational play between the first-string offensive and defensive units. The Trojans especially worked 11-on-11 drills in the red zone and near the goal line.
Defense finishes strong
The team concluded Thursday with a 2-point conversion drill pitting the offense against the defense. With the ball placed at the 2-yard line, the Trojan defense was successful in preventing the offense from scoring on three consecutive plays to conclude practice.
The defense forced redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold into throwing three incompletions — including an interception — during the 2-point conversion situation.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on the defense who bring amazing energy. That energy gives each of us a lot of confidence when we take the field,” said redshirt junior Ajene Harris, who intercepted a Darnold pass on the final play of Thursday’s practice. “It’s been all about communication [for the defense]. It’s our second year in the same system, so we are all beginning to be more confident about the play calls and schemes that we are running.”
The spring has seen strong performances from the Trojan defense. As a unit, it has received praise from the coaching staff.
The experience of this defense, you’ve got eight starters returning on that side and you have guys who have played a lot of football over their lives,” head coach Clay Helton said. “I thought today that they did a great job of situational mastery. [The defense] has played consistently this spring, all the way from practice one through now.”
Injuries alter spring game
A significant number of players are currently battling lingering injuries that will prevent them from participating in Saturday’s spring game. Injured players include redshirt senior defensive end Kenny Bigelow, junior cornerback Isaiah Langley, junior linebacker Porter Gustin, redshirt sophomore tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe and junior tight end Tyler Petite, junior wide receiver Deontay Burnett, sophomore wide receiver Keyshawn “Pie” Young and freshman offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees. Helton noted that none of these players are dealing with season-ending injuries.
In response to the number of injuries, Helton announced that USC’s spring game will mainly focus on pitting the offense and defense against one another in game-specific scenarios. Some of the situations will include: a 7-on-7 session, working the offense near its own goal line, open-field live-tackling, red zone work and a two-minute drill. While there will be various situations played out on Saturday, the game will not include a scoring system, according to Helton.
Stressing a strong start
While it may be mid-April, getting off to a strong start in the regular season is already on the minds of the USC coaching staff. With summer workouts and fall camp still remaining this offseason, Helton is hopeful that a solid preseason program will propel his team to the strong regular season start it lacked in 2016.
“[Last season], everybody talked about us being one of the better teams in the nation — maybe even being a playoff-type team,” Helton said. “But the fact of the matter is that we lost three ball games early on. One of the things that we have to do to be able to have a really special year is to be able to start fast right from the get-go because every game counts.”