Passing game stands out at Fall Showcase

Senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. was one of the wide receivers who dominated Saturday’s Fall Showcase. (Tal Volk/Daily Trojan)

Around 10,000 fans were at the Coliseum Saturday evening as USC football held its Fall Showcase. Head coach Clay Helton and his staff have a lot of decisions to make, and the mock game with full 15-minute quarters provided a glimpse at what the team’s strengths and weaknesses might be — along with hinting at who could play pivotal roles this fall.

McCoy working toward return

The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that freshman wide receiver Bru McCoy has been unable to practice for the last seven weeks due to a “fever of unknown origin.” McCoy — who originally committed to USC in January before transferring to Texas, only to transfer back to USC in May — has been waiting for his eligibility waiver to be approved by the NCAA so that he can play this season, but it is the illness that has kept him from the practice field.

However, Helton said after the showcase that McCoy is doing “a lot better” and that getting on the field is the last step he has yet to take toward full recovery. He also said that McCoy has been in team meetings and will start strength and conditioning when he is fully recovered.

Passing attack looks strong and well-rounded

Anyone familiar with USC football expects wide receiver to be the team’s strongest position group this fall. The position welcomes back last season’s three biggest contributors in senior Michael Pittman Jr., redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns and sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown, while also adding five-star freshmen McCoy and Kyle Ford.

However, with McCoy and Ford out for all of camp due to health concerns, two less heralded receivers made their mark Saturday. Sophomore Devon Williams showcased the elite athleticism he boasts within his towering 6-foot-4-inch frame to catch two touchdowns and dominate in one-on-one coverage. Freshman John Jackson III also stood out, running precise routes to consistently gain separation and displaying strong hands when he needed to make contested catches.

“I thought our receivers made some dynamic plays today, and that’s what they’re supposed to do,” Helton said. “We’ve got a rule: If we touch it, we catch it.”

All four quarterbacks competing for USC’s starting job had mostly positive performances. Redshirt junior Matt Fink showed an improved ability to throw the ball downfield, hitting St. Brown for two deep touchdowns down the seam. Sophomore JT Daniels and freshman Kedon Slovis both made good decisions; Daniels’ ability to get the ball out quick to an open receiver exhibited an advanced understanding of new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense. Redshirt sophomore Jack Sears used his high-level athleticism and arm strength to make some eye-popping plays on the run.

“I thought they made great decisions today,” Helton said of his signal-callers. “You didn’t see any forced balls, it looked like [they] had great poise.”

Helton said that he and Harrell would watch the tape of the showcase before determining the team’s starter. 

Secondary struggles

The flip side of side of success in an intrasquad scrimmage is that someone on the team failed, and that was the case on many occasions for the defensive backfield Saturday. Yes, USC’s secondary is young, but that won’t do much to quell the anguish of Trojans fans if they see their team getting fried by receivers as often as they did in the Fall Showcase.

Nobody was safe: Pittman manhandled freshman cornerback Chris Steele on a deep jump ball then burned him on a nice back shoulder connection with Slovis on back-to-back plays; sophomore Isaac Taylor-Stuart lost a similar jump ball and later picked up a defensive pass interference, both while covering Vaughns; and miscommunications among safeties made St. Brown’s two scores easy completions. Helton said developing the young players in the secondary will be a key focus heading into Week 1 against Fresno State.

“It’s going to be, for us, on the outside with some corners that are going to learn fast and learn from each experience,” Helton said. “They may have some growing pains early, but let me tell you this: They are talented, talented individuals, and as they grow, we’ll grow as a defense.”