The Trojans have been fine-tuning in order to stay sharp against Western Michigan for the game on Saturday. With the clock winding down on time, head coach Clay Helton emphasized defensive readiness to prevent the Trojans from falling behind the tempo of the Broncos.
Locking In Third Down
In order to stall Western Michigan’s fast-paced offense, the Trojans practiced situationally, looking to get their opponents off the field as soon as possible.
“We’re really reemphasizing our third downs, which I think are going to be critical, especially defensively,” Helton said. “Looking at tape, obviously this is a team that can be a no-huddle team … being able to get off the field defensively where those plays don’t climb up.”
The defense set up at the 50-yard line and worked on third down situations with varying yardage. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold took shots down the field and threw short passes to keep the defense guessing.
Special teams had ample opportunity to work on defending punt returns in order to better defend Western Michigan wideout Darius Phillips on Saturday.
“Continue watching tapes, [and] you see how dangerous Darius Phillips is and why he was the Special Teams Player of the Year last year,” Helton said. “He is not only one that can make you miss, but if he gets behind coverage, he’s gone.”
In order to be ready, USC spent a portion of practice kicking the ball to both hashes and attempting to run it back through heavy coverage.
In order to get in the right mindset, the team worked on dealing with pressure in the pocket. Darnold spent time working on quick releases backed up within the 10-yard line, forcing him to think on his feet and improvise when necessary.
The offense also worked on tightening up its short passes on different down and yardage situations. Darnold dumped the ball off through well-timed short distance passes, keeping the defense on its toes. The running backs also had an opportunity to make plays by creating space in the coverage.
Smith suspension confirmed
Due to his targeting ejection in the second half of the Penn State game, junior linebacker Cameron Smith will be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s opener.
“By rule he’s allowed to be a part of pre-game warm up,” Helton said. “After we go in, he’s not allowed to come out until the second half.”
As a result, the bench will have to step up and fill the position. Helton feels confident that the Trojans will be able to hold their own despite Smith’s absence.
“Obviously, [sophomore] Jordan [Iosefa] will play Mike linebacker, and [redshirt sophomore] John [Houston Jr.] will be the Will linebacker for that first half,” Helton said. “We’ll have [freshman] Levi [Jones] ready if needed, along with [redshirt junior] Grant Moore.”
Smith was upset by the decision, but he ultimately feels his teammates are prepared enough to hold the position until he can return.
“I’ll probably pace around a little bit [and] stress out,” Smith said. “Hopefully, someone will be there to calm me down.”
Senior right guard Viane Talamaivao played a full practice on Wednesday. According to Helton, he is in good shape for Saturday’s game.