USC Trojans: USC Trojans

LOS ANGELES -- The football was in the air on Thursday for the USC practice as the Trojans worked a lot on getting downfield in the passing game.

As would be expected, Cody Kessler led the way for the offense and looked to be in sharp command with the season little more than a week away. There were long completions to Victor Blackwell, Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith and Bryce Dixon as Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian continues to spread the touches around to various players.

WeAreSC Roundtable: Fall storylines 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
Give three under-the-radar storylines from fall camp that aren't getting a lot of attention but will be very important to the USC Trojans.

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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the Publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
When the USC Trojans scrimmaged in the Coliseum last week, there was a notable sideline visitor in highly ranked cornerback Iman “Biggie” Marshall.

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Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.

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The Trojans held a light practice on Friday morning that focused on specific end-of-game scenarios, and they will return to the field tonight for a more physical session.

“When it comes to double-day practices, we like to split things up,” coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We want to have one practice be physical and one mental. Originally we were going to go hard this morning, but we switched it up. We wanted to work a lot on special situations where the offense is behind at the end of a game, or if the defense is ahead. Those kinds of drills on specific situations are so important right now. You will see that in our scrimmages from here on out, we won’t just be calling plays, everything will be done with a specific scenario in mind.”

 The day ended on a high note when kicker Andre Heidari hit a 49-yard field goal on the final play to “win” the day for the offense.

Following a scrimmage Wednesday night at the Coliseum, he team had Thursday off and spent part of the time going bowling and playing arcade games.

“The players are so appreciative of a day off, and I like to do a team activity to keep spirits up,” Sarkisian said. “At first the players were dragging a little from the scrimmage the night before, but once the bowling and pop-a-shot started, you started to see them battle. We’ve got some real competitors on our team and that’s the kind of kid we look for in recruiting.”

O-line update
The offensive line was one of the key areas to watch coming into fall camp with so many moving pieces and injuries to deal with in terms of finding a starting five. The situation has yet to resolve itself through this point in camp. But there have been signs of improvement.

“We’re not quite there yet on the line,” Sarkisian said. “I like the leadership of guys like Max Tuerk and Chad Wheeler, they have been awesome, and I like the way some of the young players continue to improve. We would like to have everyone healthy, but that hasn’t been the case all the time with Aundrey Walker, Jordan Simmons or Nico Falah. The good news is that we’ve been running the ball better, and I think coach [Tim] Drevno has done a great job of communicating with the guys. We’re not perfect, but we’re better now than we were at the start of camp.”

Special players on special teams
Sarkisian was asked whether it's a risk to have special teams drills featuring starters such as Buck Allen, Hayes Pullard and key reserves such as Tre Madden. The roster is limited in scholarships so there is concern about key players getting injured on special teams.

“We’re trying to find balance in that area,” Sarkisian said. “You don’t want to wear your best players out but, at the same time, they are your best players so it stands to reason that they would be the best on special teams as well. If you look at Buck last year, he was really good on special teams so we want to take a look at that. Hayes isn’t a guy who traditionally had been on special teams before but we are doing it now. It’s something we will continue to evaluate.”
For four years at USC, George Farmer has been an elusive butterfly of potential, flitting toward a shard of the spotlight here, fluttering toward the edge of darkness there.

He arrived as the most touted of all Serra High prospects, faster than Robert Woods, bigger and stronger than Marqise Lee. He was an eye-popping package of five-star talent and Trojans fans could hardly wait for him to burst upon the scene back in 2011.

Except now it is 2014, and everyone is still waiting.

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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the Publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
USC athletic director Pat Haden weighed in on the subject of the NCAA “power five” vote that took place on Thursday, giving greater autonomy to the top five conferences in creating rules that apply to their group.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC athletic director Pat Haden wants college athletes to get more free time.
“This isn’t a surprise; it’s an expected result,” Haden said. “It’s good for the student-athlete and it doesn’t mean those outside the power-five conferences can’t do more, but we probably have the resources to do more than others, and that’s the way it’s been for a long time.

“If you look at what we’re doing at USC, we’ve already implemented the four-year scholarships and we’ve made changes in our eating policy; we’re always going to do as much as we’re allowed to do. There are still going to be some things that are outside of this autonomy vote. We can’t just sit here and say ‘OK, we’re going to have 15 baseball scholarships now.' That would be putting those other conferences at a disadvantage.”

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LOS ANGELES -- Almost everyone agrees that a reconstructed and heavily scrutinized offensive line will be key to the USC Trojans' success this season.

The responsibility for this unit rests with new offensive line coach Tim Drevno. The first-year coach has been working with his players individually after practice during this first week of training camp.

"I think the biggest thing is to get back into the playbook and get our physicality back, get great communication up front, start to address the starting five, and try to find the sixth, seventh, and eighth guy," said Drevno, who was the assistant offensive line coach last season with the San Francisco 49ers.

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Roundtable: fall camp observations 

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
The WeAreSC staffers discuss three things that have jumped out so far from the opening days of fall camp.

Garry Paskwietz

1. Lots of bodies. For a team with limited roster numbers due to scholarship restrictions, the Trojans sure have a lot of available bodies to start camp -- enough that Steve Sarkisian has been able to utilize three full units during practice time. That has meant a lot of development time for the entire squad and some long three-hour practices to get the camp sessions started. Kenny Bigelow is the only player ruled out for the season, and there have been a few players sitting out that should come back soon. Otherwise the full squad is on the field and getting work.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIAll-American Leonard Williams has picked up where he left off and been impressive in camp.
2. There has been a lot of attention paid to the up-tempo offense but it’s important to note that this defense has a chance to be pretty good. The unit is led by a strong front seven with veterans such as Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams but it’s been the secondary that has shown well early on. It helps to have Josh Shaw back at corner and Chris Hawkins has filled in well at the other spot with Kevon Seymour out due to stomach flu. And Adoree' Jackson and Lamont Simmons have made strong impressions as true freshmen. Su'a Cravens is up to 225 pounds at the safety position.

3. The snapping issues between the quarterback and center in the shotgun have been there through the start of camp. At some point you want to see them go away but it hasn’t happened yet. There have been stretches where things are fine but it simply needs to be more consistent than it is right now before the regular season starts. The good news is that this is what fall camp is for with players who are new to the center spot.

Johnny Curren

1. The improved depth of the team. This is the healthiest and deepest that the Trojans have been in what seems like forever, and it’s resulted in more competitive practice sessions marked by an improved overall level of play. Even with what is still a limited roster, Sarkisian and his staff have what appears to be talent on top of talent at virtually every position, even at the cornerback and wide receiver spots that were noticeably thin a year ago. The ability of the team to stay healthy will obviously be a key factor to watch as fall camp progresses.

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Trojans benefit from unique retreat 

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
The Trojans kicked off fall camp on Monday, and while the lightning-quick tempo first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian had the team going through had even the throng of fans in attendance huffing and puffing, for a particular group of USC players, it was nothing compared to what they went through a few days earlier.

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The USC Trojans hit the field on Monday for the opening day of fall camp practices and the news was mostly good about the players who were available.

Steve Sarkisian made it a point of resting multiple players in spring and the result was a field full of bodies that was a welcome sight for a program that has battled so many roster limitations in recent years.

The news wasn’t all good, however, as Sarkisian announced after practice that junior tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick was ruled academically ineligible and would be forced to miss the upcoming season. Cope-Fitzpatrick was scheduled to be the No. 2 tight end behind senior Randall Telfer with an opportunity to shine in an offense that produced the Mackey Award winner last year.

"Jalen will be ineligible for the season but he will still be with us for practices,” Sarkisian said after practice. “It’s a bit of sour news coming into camp for Jalen but on the positive side, Randall Telfer looked great out there in his first practice back from injury. He competed, he provided good leadership, all that was good to see.”

The loss of Cope-Fitzpatrick to the depth chart opens up an opportunity for other players, primarily true freshman Bryce Dixon.

“Bryce is plenty good to be able to play for us this fall,” Sarkisian said. “I watched him out there today and he did everything you would hope to see. We also have Chris Willson available to us -- he’s a walk-on who is perfectly capable -- and we also have two good fullbacks in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner who can play a similar role to what we do with the tight end. “

In what has to be seen as a tremendous positive for the Trojans, almost every scholarship player on the roster participated in practice on Day 1 of fall camp. In fact, besides defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow, who suffered a torn ACL in his right knee earlier this summer, the only other player who sat out the whole workout was junior cornerback Kevon Seymour.

Seymour, who started 11 games for the Trojans in 2013, watched practice from the sideline after recently spending six days in the hospital with a stomach virus/food poisoning. Sarkisian revealed that Seymour lost significant weight because of his illness, but also said that he’s in no hurry to rush the talented cornerback into action, due in large part to the experience that he possesses and his familiarity with the playbook.

Two players who were limited on Monday were offensive lineman Aundrey Walker and linebacker Lamar Dawson. Walker, who suffered a broken ankle last fall, took part in some early drills and saw brief action at left guard. Dawson, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2013, took limited reps at weakside linebacker.

But overall, Sarkisian and staff had what looked to be a fairly deep collection of players at their disposal on Monday.

Some of the performers coming off injury who participated in the entirety of the practice session included defensive linemen Leonard Williams, Greg Townsend Jr., Cody Temple and Don Hill; defensive backs Su'a Cravens, Devian Shelton and D.J. Morgan; running backs Justin Davis and Anthony Brown; wide receivers George Farmer and Steven Mitchell; tight end Randall Telfer; and offensive linemen Jordan Simmons and Nico Falah.

Practice notes

  • The Trojans ran 130 plays in practice, and 80 in a morning walk-through.

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Steve Sarkisian added some intrigue to the future of USC's quarterback recruiting last week with a pair of offers to Class of 2016 prospects Shea Patterson and K.J. Costello.

 It may seem a little early to be jockeying for position with players who haven’t started their junior years of high school yet, but that’s not the case in the current world of quarterback recruiting. This process seems to move up every year.

Sarkisian had already extended one offer earlier in this spring to Malik Henry, the No. 2-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300. Henry, a terrific athlete at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, has received interest from schools such as UCLA, Texas, Tennessee, Notre Dame and Florida State.

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Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.


Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?


Discuss (Total votes: 10,457)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.



Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30