With rivalry week ramping up, the Trojans took the field to focus on discipline and tempo on Wednesday.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Fink saw some action on Wednesday, splitting non-contact reps with redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Sears, but head coach Clay Helton made it clear that there is only one starting quarterback for USC.
“We’re fortunate to have three great quarterbacks, but JT is the starter,” Helton said. “Last week’s stall was not the act of the quarterback.”
The emphasis for the offense this week will be to sustain full drives, converting third downs in order to keep the UCLA offense off the field, and the team drilled third down situations throughout practice. The Trojans have just a 38 percent rate of effectiveness converting on third down so far this season, a statistic that barely ranks in the top 100 teams of the country.
This inability to close third downs has forced the team to rely instead on breaking off large plays rather than building plays that march from one end of the field to the other. Although the team has slightly improved as the season progressed, Helton stressed that it will be vital for his team to find its rhythm on third down to last through all four quarters in the Rose Bowl.
In the dependably competitive atmosphere of the crosstown rivalry game, Helton is also emphasizing the importance of cool heads throughout every level of his team. Against Cal, the Trojans suffered a critical penalty when senior cornerback Iman Marshall jawed at the Cal sidelines after an incomplete pass. Instead of forcing Cal to kick the ball away on fourth down, the penalty gave the Bears the first down necessary to pull out the win.
“On Monday, I addressed the team and apologized for my actions,” Marshall said. “That did have an effect on the game.”
Helton said that he was proud of Marshall. But apologies won’t be enough when the team faces UCLA; discipline will be necessary.
“I don’t know what was said,” Helton said of the confrontation. “Usually it’s the second guy who gets caught. They need to learn that.”
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jacob Lichtenstein returned to practice after sitting out at the end of Tuesday’s practice with a shoulder tweak. Freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin also returned to play after sitting out on Tuesday.
Junior linebacker Oluwole Betiku and sophomore linebacker Juliano Falaniko both worked out with a trainer along the sidelines throughout practice, with Falaniko putting on a helmet to close out his one-on-one training on the way back to full-contact play.
Offensive linemen senior Chuma Edoga and redshirt junior Clayton Bradley remain completely out of practice, along with defensive linemen sophomore Brandon Pili and junior Caleb Tremblay. Redshirt senior tight end Austin Applebee also remained out of pads for practice on Wednesday.