USC Trojans: Randall Telfer
Dinged up with ankle and shoulder injuries, it seemed like the tight end never got his chance to get going in USC's pass offense.
With a career-high six catches for 46 yards, the 6-foot-5 Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman product provided quarterback Cody Kessler with a big, steady receiving option to lean on in the Trojans' 47-29 victory over Colorado.
“It just felt good,” said Grimble, a fourth-year junior. “I always like to stay ready for whenever my opportunity comes, and it came. They called my number a few times, and I was able to make the plays.”
With USC tight ends averaging under two receptions per game as a unit heading into the contest, the production of Grimble, and Randall Telfer -- who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass -- was somewhat of a revelation.
According to Grimble, offensive coordinator Clay Helton has always wanted to utilize the tight ends more as receiving threats, but he simply couldn’t because the group has been wracked by injuries virtually all season long.
But with Grimble feeling the best he has in a while, in addition to the improved health of Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, there are reasons to believe that last weekend’s performance might just be a primer of things to come.
“It’s been a rough season for myself and the other tight ends,” said Grimble, who has amassed 21 receptions for 220 yards and one touchdown in 2013. “We’ve been injured a little bit, and it affected our place in the passing game. It’s not that Coach [Helton] doesn’t want to use us. We just haven’t been up to full speed. And now that we’re back and getting fully healthy, I definitely think there will be more balls coming our way.”
That's exactly what Grimble wants.
“I love catching passes and being physical with the defense,” Grimble said. “Just creating a different piece in the offense as a big target who can move well.”
Still, Grimble knows that as a tight end in USC's pro-style offense, he's just as valuable to the team for his blocking abilities, and it's a job that he's grown to enjoy over the course of time.
“As I got older, I kind of noticed that a pancake or finishing someone off on a block is almost just as good as catching a ball,” Grimble said. “I get a thrill out of it.”
Grimble hopes to follow up his strong performance last weekend with another one this Saturday when the Trojans face crosstown rival UCLA at home in the Coliseum. It’s a matchup that will pit him up against a pair of highly regarded outside linebackers for the Bruins.
“They’ve got some good players over there,” Grimble said. “They’ve got Anthony Barr, who’s probably a top-10 pick, and Myles Jack. They both play on the end so that’s going to be a big challenge for me, and I’m excited for it. I’m always ready to go up against whoever the top guys are. Those are the type of guys that I’m supposed to be going against.”
And with memories of the Trojans’ 38-28 loss to UCLA in 2012 still fresh in his mind, it’s a game, and a test, that can’t come soon enough.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Grimble said. “I can’t wait to get out there.”
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Just ask longtime observers and historians of Trojans football and they can’t recall a time when the Men of Troy were in such a vulnerable tight end state. Injuries have decimated the Trojans depth at a position that has its own storied history with the likes of Bob Klein, Charles “The Tree” Young, Hoby Brenner, Jim Obradovich, Paul Green, Scott Galbraith and 2007 Mackey Award winner Fred Davis.
It’s no wonder that without juniors Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer manning their familiar blocking tight end positions, the Trojans could manage only 30 yards on the ground and were limited in receiving options.
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WeAreSC staffers gives opinions on topics related to Trojans football:
The Trojans have been hit hard by injuries at certain position groups. If you could take one player and move him to a depleted position, who would it be and why?
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“After reviewing the film, there were some outstanding efforts by our guys. ... We felt that the penalties hurt us at the end, and put us in a bad position on third down ... too many penalties and too many mistakes put us in crucial situations.
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If these Trojans players can somehow rebound against Utah on Saturday at the Coliseum and maintain momentum the rest of the way, anything is still possible when it comes to USC’s interim head coach. If the Trojans can win the games they’re supposed to win, including obvious uphill challenges against Stanford and UCLA, the impossible can still become the possible.
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What makes this one so tough is the missed opportunities. This wasn’t a game for the ages in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry and it wasn’t particularly well played on either side, but it was there for the taking for the Trojans and you hate to lose those opportunities when you have them.
For the remainder of the game, it just seemed as if the Trojans couldn’t get out of their own way. Redd ran for 91 yards in the first half and eventually became the first runner this year to go over 100 yards against the Irish. Redd was the one USC player who seemed capable of pounding Notre Dame all night but for some reason his touches in the second half were limited.
Nelson Agholor was another bright spot -- both as a receiver and punt returner -- but even he could only do so much after Marqise Lee had gone out of the game with an injury. Lee had tried to come back from a recent knee injury but he had another key drop, this one on a potential touchdown pass on a well-thrown ball by quarterback Cody Kessler.
Kessler had a commendable game, completing 20 of 34 pass attempts for 201 yards. He was under constant pressure from the Notre Dame defensive line and was throwing to a depleted pass-catching group that eventually was missing three of the five scholarship receivers and the top two tight ends.
And we haven’t even gotten to the penalties yet. The Trojans committed 11 penalties for 95 yards and so many of them seemed to come at critical times to negate a big play or first down. The biggest came on a holding call that brought back a Kessler scramble down to the Irish 3-yard line late in the game. There was also a non-call against Notre Dame as a pass interference penalty was not called on an Irish defender against Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick on the final USC drive.
There was a big hit by Lamar Dawson that knocked Irish quarterback Tommy Rees out of the game after Rees had looked sharp throwing the ball, particularly in the direction of USC cornerback Anthony Brown. The replacement for Rees, Andrew Hendrix, was not able to complete a pass in the game but, once again, the Trojans were unable to take advantage.
Even with all that, the Trojans still had their chances. They had three straight drives in the second half that started on the Irish side of the field and a fourth that began at the USC 48-yard line, yet they were unable to score. There were five USC drives in the second half that went six yards or less. After converting the first two third-down conversions of the game, the Trojans did not convert their next 11 tries. The Trojans also missed a pair of field goals that would have provided a winning margin if successful. It was simply one of those nights.
So where do the Trojans go from here after such a disappointing loss? There are no easy answers for interim coach Ed Orgeron. The momentum had been going in such a positive direction since Orgeron took over but this game magnified the realities of where USC is at for the rest of the season. There are issues with the pass defense, the O-line, penalties and third-down conversions. There are injury issues to key players. There doesn’t seem to be a clear identity yet for the offense under Clay Helton and opposing offenses are suddenly having a lot of success against Clancy Pendergast's defense.
One thing Orgeron praised is that the USC players showed fight against Notre Dame. As frustrating as it was to watch the Trojans fail to find a way to pull out the game, it was clear that the effort was there from the team right up until the end. You can’t imagine that so many factors are going to go against you in the way that they did against the Irish so if the effort can be maintained, that gives Orgeron something to build on.
The Utah Utes are coming to town next week and they are more than capable of putting up a fight. Maybe the Trojans can get Lee back, perhaps Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer too. Maybe there are some shake-ups in personnel. Whatever changes need to be made, Orgeron needs to make them. What does he have to lose? The worse thing that could happen to this team is to let the Notre Dame game beat them twice. Chalk up the gut-wrenching loss to the Irish and move on because there is still plenty left to play for this season and it starts next Saturday at the Coliseum.
If you could change one thing on offense with Clay Helton calling plays, what would it be?
Garry Paskwietz: To develop a consistent identity. The players really liked what they saw from Helton during spring ball when he called plays in some scrimmages and it will be important to get that comfort level back. The USC offense has been up and down this year with play calling that ranged from what was seen against Washington State to solid efforts against Boston College and Arizona State.
Johnny Curren: Getting the tight ends more involved in the passing attack. Although low in numbers, the Trojans possess a very talented group of tight ends, headlined by Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, yet they’ve been totally underutilized throughout the past two seasons. This year, in fact, the group has a total of just 12 grabs. By getting this unit more involved in the offensive attack, it would add a whole new element to the passing game, and perhaps make life a whole lot easier for Cody Kessler.
Greg Katz: If I could change one thing on offense with Helton calling plays, it would be to run the ball even more and then use play-action passes off the running game, which I believe is going to happen.
Garry Paskwietz: The tight end spot, with Grimble and Telfer. USC fans have sat back for the last two years and wondered why these two terrific athletes were not utilized more as part of the offense. That should change now.
Johnny Curren: Nelson Agholor. Agholor has just 11 receptions through five games, and he really hasn’t even been thrown to with much frequency this season. With Marqise Lee sidelined at the moment, he will likely take on a bigger role regardless, but with Orgeron’s statement on Monday that he wants to spread the ball around more, Agholor could really take off in the long run. As he showed in the spring, he’s a dangerous big-play threat, and he’s just waiting for the chance to break out.
Greg Katz: I think that Agholor will now be incorporated into the offense even more by this coaching change, and I suspect we will see greater use of tight ends Grimble and Telfer.
Who has been your MVP through five games?
Garry Paskwietz: I’m going to go with Tre Madden. He has been a consistent presence while averaging more than 100 yards per game, something the offense hasn’t had in a while. It becomes all the more impressive when you realize Tre is coming off knee surgery and, by the way, he had never carried the ball in a college game before this year.
Johnny Curren: Madden. While the production of the offense, as a whole, has been up and down, Madden has performed at a consistently high level throughout the season. Leading the team with 583 yards on the ground, he ranks No. 4 in the conference with a rushing average of 116.6 yards per game, and he gives USC the program’s first real workhorse at tailback in quite a while.
Greg Katz: My MVP through five games would be defensive end Devon Kennard, who has really found a home in Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 alignment. Devon has been a real force there each and every game, and you have to admire his attitude and consistency. Offensively, I would have to go with Madden, who seems to be getting better and better each week. It won’t shock me to see him now carry the ball 20 times a game with backup carries by Justin Davis.
“Oh man, it was great,” said Grimble, who also made a nine-yard reception in the game. “I broke the huddle, walked up, saw their coverage and where their linebackers were placed ... had a good, clean release and I was able to get out fast. I knew that if [Kessler] saw me open, I was going to score a touchdown. I’m glad I was able to get in there.”
And Grimble -- who teams with Randall Telfer to give the USC offense one of the best tight end duos in college football -- is hoping Saturday’s touchdown is just the first of many more to come this season. A big target with solid all-around skills, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman product has worked hard to put himself in position to become a vital part of the passing offense, if so called upon, in 2013.
“As far as pass-catching goes, I’m always ready ... that’s how I like to be,” said Grimble, who has recorded eight receptions this season, and 52 in his career. “Every chance that I get to catch the ball, I’ve got to maximize. And I was put in a good position on Saturday, and I maximized that opportunity.”
But in order for that to happen on a consistent basis, a USC aerial attack which has struggled in three of the team’s first four contests this fall will have to come together and show vast improvement -- in a hurry. Plagued by a general lack of rhythm between Kessler and his receivers, inconsistent offensive line play and a number of dropped balls, the Trojans' offense currently ranks No. 108 nationally with an average of just 163.5 passing yards per game.
“I think it’s going to be a thing where we’ve just got to get better week-to-week,” Grimble said. “I think we’ve got a ton of practice experience, but we really need that game experience. Going back and watching film, we’re pretty much just a pass or play away from cracking some games open, gaining some momentum and getting things rolling. We’re still putting it together, but I think it’s going to come soon.”
Ideally, Grimble and the Trojans would like that upswing in production to begin this weekend when USC takes on Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. But that might be easier said than done. After all, the Sun Devils feature an aggressive defense that ranks No. 17 nationally against the pass (159 yards allowed per game) and is headlined by 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton. And while Grimble is well aware of what the Trojans' offense is set to go up against, he’s also encouraged by what he has seen from the unit this week in practice. He’s excited for the challenge.
“Arizona State is always a talented team,” Grimble said. “You’ve always got to watch out for a few guys. They’ve got some big, strong guys up front, some talented guys in the secondary and they always seem to have a good linebacker corps. I think it’s going to be an exciting game for us to really take our preparation, and to be ready to go once the game starts.”
Whether the Trojans’ passing game gets on track in time for Saturday’s kickoff could determine if the team escapes the hot Arizona desert with a victory or a loss. And if it does, one thing you can expect to see is more big plays from Grimble, who eagerly awaits the opportunity.
“I’m always looking for the ball,” Grimble said. “I’m never going to stop looking and running hard, and when the ball comes my way I’m going to be ready to make the play.”
“I think they’re looking forward to playing a game, just like everybody around the country,” Kiffin said shortly before the players boarded buses to LAX for their flight to Honolulu. “Camp gets long ... you hit the same people. They’ve been hitting each other a lot, especially with not a lot of depth there, so I think they’re just excited to play on the same side.”
Coming off a 2012 campaign that saw the Trojans stumble to a disappointing 7-6 record, Kiffin and Co. have a lot to prove this fall, and it all starts with the impending season opener. USC is heavily favored in the contest, not a surprise considering Hawaii's 3-9 record -- which included a 49-10 loss to the Trojans -- while also fielding an offense that ranked No. 118 in yards per game (297.4).
Still, it’s a new season, and Kiffin has made a concerted effort to ensure that his team doesn’t take Hawaii -- led by former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- for granted.
“I don’t know what we’re favored by, but every game is the same,” Kiffin said. “You have to come ready to play every Saturday, Thursday, Friday or whatever day it is. We’ve seen over the years on both sides that those [point spreads] don’t mean very much. You better come ready to play in college football or you’re going to lose the game.”
One Hawaii player that appears to have caught Kiffin’s attention in particular is junior quarterback Taylor Graham. An Ohio State transfer who takes over the starting job held last season by senior Sean Schroeder, he has yet to throw a pass in a live college game, but with a 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame and a strong arm, he’s created a fair amount of buzz this month during workouts.
“It sounds like their quarterback has been doing a good job, and doing well in scrimmages,” Kiffin said.
Defensively, the Rainbow Warriors are coming off a season in which they allowed just 182.8 passing yards per game -- the No. 11 mark nationally. Led by a front seven featuring defensive end Tavita Woodard, tackle Siasau Matagiese and linebacker Art Laurel, Kiffin expects them to try to come after USC’s starting quarterback -- whether that’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler -- early and often.
“I’m sure that they’ll pressure us a lot with a new quarterback, a new center and a lot of new players,” Kiffin said. “I would expect them to be very aggressive.”
And while the Trojans will be playing on an island more noted for its weather and beaches than for its football, the USC coaching staff has worked hard to hammer home the idea that the team is travelling with the sole objective of coming away with a victory.
“This is a business trip,” Kiffin said. “I think our players understand that this really isn’t a vacation.”
Kiffin knows who will start at QB
Kiffin has stated on more than one occasion that he anticipates playing both Wittek and Kessler at quarterback in the Trojans’ opener, and on Tuesday he revealed that he has now picked a starter, but he wouldn’t go so far as to name him.
“I’m not going to tell you the end of the movie before you go into the movie, right? -- You’re going to have to watch,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin also hasn’t explained how he might substitute or rotate the two quarterbacks in during the course of the game, but regardless of who is in at any point in time, he’s confident that he can go with the same gameplan.
“We’re at the point now where we feel great about both quarterbacks, that we would not have to call different plays or have a different play-chart for both guys,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to call it the same regardless of which guy is in there.”
Injuries could have impact
The topic of injuries has been a constant throughout August at USC, with over 20 players sitting out a number of recent practices, and there is a large collection whose status still appears to be questionable going into Hawaii.
“Well, I feel confident in the guys that are going to play, but at the same time it is unusual to be shuffling around so much this last week,” Kiffin said. “I feel more like we’re in week 9 or week 10 where you’ve really got to kind of figure things out because of injuries. It is what it is. I’m sure other people have problems too. All of these injuries have given other people opportunities to step up.”
Tight end Randall Telfer, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin and safety Dion Bailey are three key players who have missed extensive time this month. When asked on Tuesday if the three would be travelling with the team to Hawaii, Kiffin gave the same answer in each instance -- “I hope so” -- before adding “We’ll be in a lot of trouble if we don’t have those three guys.”
• Kiffin said that Josh Shaw and Su'a Cravens will start at the two safety spots.
• Kiffin confirmed that tailbacks Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan would not travel due to injury.
Both quarterbacks had their opportunities in the scrimmage, which was a different format than normal. Instead of having one quarterback with the first unit and the other with the second, the quarterbacks alternated series with the first unit while going against the service team defense.
The first interception came on the opening drive. Kessler had driven the offense into the red zone -- helped by a nice Tre Madden toss sweep behind blocking from Chad Wheeler and Jahleel Pinner -- but was intercepted by walk-on Nick Schlossberg on a slant pass attempt to Marqise Lee.
Max Wittek came in and was promptly sacked by Delvon Simmons. Wittek had a long completion to Xavier Grimble on a real strong throw. Justin Davis got the ball inside the 5-yard line, but the drive stalled and the offense settled for a 21-yard Andre Heidari field goal.
It was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, but Torin Harris must not have got that memo because he laid a pretty good lick on walk-on receiver Christian Guzman. George Uko added a sack.
Kessler was picked on the next series by walk-on John Auran.
Wittek hit Agholor deep on the first play of the next drive. Schlossberg came on a blitz on the next play and was met by a terrific block from Javorius Allen. Kevin Greene had a sack on third down to force a 42-yard field goal by Heidari.
Marcus Martin started at center but he went out as a precaution. Max Tuerk was moved to center with Nathan Guertler stepping in at left guard.
Chris Hawkins had a nice pass break-up of a Kessler attempt to Lee, resulting in another Heidari field goal.
Lee went out later in the scrimmage and was seen with ice on his shoulder on the bench. By the end of the scrimmage the ice was off, and both Lee and Kiffin said things were “fine”.
The rest of the scrimmage basically belonged to Nelson Agholor. He caught two touchdowns from Kessler and one from Wittek to end the day with nine catches for 250 yards and three touchdowns. Lee had eight grabs for 107 yards.
There were plenty of players who sat out the scrimmage due to various injuries. Dion Bailey, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Ryan Henderson, Marquis Simmons, Scott Starr, Cyrus Hobbi, Cody Temple, Silas Redd, Jordan Simmons, Victor Blackwell, D.J. Morgan, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Kevon Seymour and Randall Telfer were all sidelinded.
The starting lineups were as follows:
Offense: Kessler, Madden, Pinner, Lee, Agholor, Grimble, Wheeler, Tuerk, Martin, John Martinez, Kevin Graf.
Defense: Devon Kennard, Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods, Uko, Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Anthony Brown, Harris, Josh Shaw, Su'a Cravens.
“We had 21 guys today that didn’t practice, [and] there were more that couldn’t have contact in the yellow jerseys,” Kiffin said. “You start getting into the 20s with guys not practicing at all – we’ve got some really short lines and some really unfamiliar names playing with the first and second units, so obviously we didn’t plan for that to happen.”
Among those sidelined were Dion Bailey, Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Morgan Breslin, J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr, Victor Blackwell, Ty Isaac, Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer, Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and perhaps most noticeably Aundrey Walker, who left Monday's practice early with an undisclosed injury.
“Aundrey wasn’t able to practice today,” Kiffin said. “We anticipate him practicing tomorrow.”
With the three top tight ends atop the depth chart out in Grimble, Telfer and Cope-Fitzpatrick, the USC offense relied on the very unlikely trio of Chris Willson, Shane Sullivan and Kevin Greene -- a development Kiffin brought up as an example of a position group decimated by injuries.
“One [Willson] was a quarterback a week ago, one [Sullivan] we’re just learning his name, and the other one [Greene] was a defensive end a week ago,” Kiffin said. “They’re doing the best that they can.”
Highlights from practice:
- The Trojans spent the majority of the day in an extensive 11-on-11 period, with Kessler starting the session with the first unit at quarterback, although Wittek also saw plenty of time with the ones throughout the course of the day.
- Defensively, the No. 1 defense was made up of a group that included Torin Harris and Anthony Brown at cornerback, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright at the safety spots, Hayes Pullard – in a yellow jersey – and Lamar Dawson at inside linebacker, Devon Kennard and Jabari Ruffin at outside linebacker, George Uko and Leonard Williams at defensive end and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle.
- Kessler got things started with a couple of nice quick strikes to Marqise Lee – also in a yellow jersey – right off the bat before connecting with De’von Flournoy for a first-down pick-up. Wittek followed that with a connection to Darreus Rogers for 10 yards. Javorius Allen took a handoff a short while later, but outside linebacker Charles Burks – who has impressed lately – wrapped him up immediately for a loss in the backfield. Justin Davis followed that with a nifty run in which he made a nice cut right after he got past the line for a big gain. Wittek tried to hit Sullivan in the flat, but Dawson came up and nearly picked the ball off. Allen broke off a nice, 10-yard run. Uko, Ruffin and Dawson each racked up sacks. Wittek came up with the play of the day shortly thereafter, hitting Nelson Agholor on a deep throw down the sideline over Harris for a gain of about 45 yards.
- A brief red-zone period immediately followed, with Kessler opening things up by connecting with Flournoy for a touchdown. Kessler also connected on short passes to Sullivan, Agholor and Pinner. Wittek hit Agholor for a short gain, but he also had a ball batted down by Hutchings at the goal line. Tre Madden finished the session off by plowing into the end zone from two yards out.
- The team finished the day with each quarterback getting a chance to lead the offense in a two-minute drill, but both drives stalled without a score.
Kiffin revealed that Wednesday’s scrimmage won’t be particularly physical – in fact, there won’t be any live tackling – but it could provide a potential look at how certain position battles are shaping up and how the rotations might look. Kiffin plans to break the team into two groups, with one of those being comprised of the players expected to play most.
“We will divide the guys so that we can really practice a game for the first time where, really, the main guys are together on one sideline, so that we can get used to the substitutions on offense, defense and special teams,” Kiffin said. “We can get used to the offense coming to the sideline with the coaches, and the defense coming to the sideline, and having a break between series. And then basically a service team will be on the other side.”
It sounds like a relatively harmless question considering USC’s All-Planet junior is unanimously regarded as the finest college wide receiver in America. I mean, does it really matter whether he catches 90 balls, or 100, or even a mind-boggling 118 as he did last year?
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The biggest bit of news to come out of the two-hour session was that star USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, while still sidelined for the vast majority of the practice, did appear to take a step -- albeit a small one -- toward a potential return sometime soon. Wearing a yellow jersey and helmet, but no shoulder pads, he stepped in at wideout briefly during a half-speed 11-on-11 period, then fielded punts during a late, no-contact special teams drill. It’s the most activity seen out of Lee since he went down with a bone bruise in his shoulder last Friday.
On defense, Su’a Cravens continued to run with the first-team defense at strong safety in place of Josh Shaw, who left Monday morning’s practice with an undisclosed injury. Morgan Breslin, Cody Temple and Torin Harris also didn’t take part, but defensive ends Leonard Williams and J.R. Tavai both returned and each moved well throughout the workout.
On the offensive line, Aundrey Walker got the bulk of the snaps with the first-team group at right guard ahead of two-year starter John Martinez, who ran primarily with the second unit.
During an early 11-on-11 period, quarterback Max Wittek got things started off right by going deep and hitting Blackwell in stride for a 70-yard touchdown score, but then things went downhill for the offense in a hurry. Free safety Dion Bailey came up to stop Allen for no-gain on a run, a snap from Marcus Martin to Wittek was fumbled, and soon thereafter there was a fumbled exchange between Cody Kessler and John Akiba that Tavai recovered. Other defensive highlights included a Devon Kennard sack on Wittek, a Marquis Simmons tackle for loss on Madden and a sack of Kessler by Tavai.
During a period in which the first-team offense and defense went against scout units, the offensive group spent a lot of time focusing on the ground game, with Madden and Allen putting together some nice runs.
The team then got together for some final two-minute drill work that had Kessler running primarily with the first unit and Wittek with the No. 2 group.
Kessler completed a pass over the middle to Blackwell, who was then leveled by Hayes Pullard. A little later on, Kessler threw a pass to the outside, but Anthony Brown stepped in front of it and returned it for a touchdown. Williams also made his presence felt in this session, rushing in and batting down a Kessler pass. Wittek ended the day with a nice drive, completing passes to Aaron Minor, Shane Sullivan and Christian Guzman and capping it with a 20-yard touchdown strike to Flournoy.
2012 record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)
Key losses: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, OL Khaled Holmes, DB T.J. McDonald, DB Nickell Robey
Key returnees: WR Marqise Lee, RB Silas Redd, OL Kevin Graf, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Randall Telfer, LB Hayes Pullard, DL Leonard Williams, OLB Morgan Breslin, DB Dion Bailey, WR Nelson Agholor
Newcomer to watch: DB Su’a Cravens
Biggest games in 2013: at Notre Dame, Stanford, UCLA
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The cornerback position stood out in spring ball as an area that needs work. The Trojans have a new defensive coordinator in Clancy Pendergast, who runs a 5-2 scheme that relies on the corners to play a lot of man-to-man coverage. USC needs to replace both corners from 2012, although safety Josh Shaw did play some corner last year and can move back if needed. Keep an eye on sophomore Kevon Seymour to lock down one spot, as he showed a lot of promise as a freshman. The Pac-12 has some very good quarterbacks returning this year, and the USC corners will need to step up their play for the defense to be successful.
Forecast: There is a wait-and-see attitude for the Trojans this year after the disappointing results in 2012. The good news is there are 16 starters returning, including the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner in Marqise Lee. There are plenty of other talented skill players coming back on offense in addition to Lee, but one key spot that needs to be filled is at quarterback. Matt Barkley is gone after four years as the starter, and fall camp will see a continuation of the battle between Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Max Browne to replace him. Wittek has the benefit of starting two games at the end of 2012 when Barkley was injured, but he struggled in the Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Kessler had a solid spring with zero interceptions in five scrimmages, and he carried that momentum through summer throwing sessions. Browne is a future talent who will likely redshirt with two veterans ahead of him. On defense, there is a lot of optimism that the change in scheme will bring positive results. Pendergast had the top-ranked defense at Cal in his first year on the job in 2010, and he has the players at USC to make a similar turnaround. The front seven is a bright spot, led by returning Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Leonard Williams on the defensive line and Hayes Pullard at linebacker. Morgan Breslin had 13 sacks in 2012, and he moves to outside linebacker this year. Look for the Trojans to attack with this front from multiple angles and create a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.