USC Football: Complete Spring Game Preview
USC holds its annual spring game on Saturday, and with it comes the culmination of all the hard work head coach Steve Sarkisian and his team have put in this offseason.
Sark has had a smooth of an inaugural offseason as one could hope; he closed strong on the recruiting trail and landed a top-notch signing class back in February, and he's been installing the foundation of the new uptempo offense without any major hiccups. His next most important task was to name a starting quarterback, and as of this week, the fans and the media have been informed that Cody Kessler has retained his job.
Saturday's spring game will be Trojan fans' first taste of what the new offense looks like, as well as how effectively Kessler controls it.
Without further ado, here's a complete preview of what to expect in USC's spring game.
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. PT
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Live viewing: USC's spring game is open to the public, with $10 tickets available that can be purchased here.
Format: This year's spring game will look a little different and will be a bit shorter than previous spring games, as depth and health concerns will keep the Trojans from giving it a 100 percent effort. That said, we can look forward to about 100 plays and some live tackling during the game.
Position Battles to Watch
Wide Receiver: Darreus Rogers and George Farmer are the leading candidates to start opposite Nelson Agholor next fall. This is particularly interesting because Farmer has spent essentially all of his career at USC injured. He's finally been healthy this spring, and he has turned heads with his athletic ability along the way.
That said, it will be difficult for him to unseat Rogers, who had a decent showing with streaks of greatness for the Trojans (22 catches for 257 yards) in 2013. This position battle is more about the excitement of finally getting to see Farmer perform for the first time and the possibilities that are created if he can stay healthy and actively participate in the receiver rotation.
Defensive end: Transfers Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons are battling to star opposite Leonard Williams, and this one could really go either way. Both are gigantic, strong, physical ends with previous college experience that has eased them into the Trojans' ranks.
This will be another fun battle to watch on Saturday to get an idea of how either would help continue the tradition of USC fielding a bruising, dominant defensive line.
USC has so many positions up for grabs, nearly every single one has an exciting battle brimming. These are just two in particular to follow. For a fuller list of position battles, click here.
Uptempo offense: The storyline that has dominated conversation dating back to Sark's hiring in December—and continues to do the same during the spring—is that of USC's new-look offense. The Trojans are now operating with some spread offense elements such as operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation.
In addition to paying attention to how much more dynamic the offense looks, it will be worth following how the defense fairs against the new scheme. In the past, the Trojans would often get gassed in the second half of a game, having been worn down by the legs of a quick offense. Now that the defense will regularly practice against speed, the way it responds to the pace should improve.
Position battles: As previously mentioned, much of the Trojans' depth chart is in flux, with experienced veterans out with injury and incoming talent yet to arrive and contribute. For now, it means that younger guys have the opportunity to step up and stake a claim for a spot in the starting rotation. Furthermore, it means that many position battles will resume in the fall once the veterans are healthy and active again.
While what we see on Saturday will be an important first look, we could still get different talent combinations (particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, safety and linebacker) once fall camp begins.
What the Experts Are Saying
I think he's extremely decisive from where he was in Week 1 in a new system to where he performed today. He knows where he's going with the football. Are there some fundamentals and techniques we're going to continue to work on? Sure. But I think he's got a great deal of confidence. I love his leadership in the locker room with the players. He can throw the deep ball extremely well and he has enough athleticism to buy himself some time to create some plays down the field.
Johnny Curren of ESPN.com chronicles linebacker Jabari Ruffin's growth and what it means for the linebacker corps:
Beginning spring camp running with the No. 2 defensive unit behind Quinton Powell, Ruffin began impressing USC coach Steve Sarkisian and Co. with his play on a daily basis, so much so that over the course of the last week he actually has been lining up ahead of Powell with the No. 1 group for much of the time.
In Pullard, they saw a seasoned veteran leading the Trojans' mostly young linebacker corps. The former Crenshaw High star refuses to sit out and nurse soreness that sets in after facing a no-huddle offense that runs about 120 plays during workouts.
OG Jordan Simmons: Recovering from a knee surgery. Simmons brings a big frame that the O-line needs, but he's unproven, which could work against him when he gets back into the action in the fall. Furthermore, he's untested in the new scheme, and we don't know if he's in the shape for it yet. There's a lot of potential here, and he will be another player to watch develop in August.
OG Aundrey Walker: Recovering from a broken ankle sustained against UCLA in 2013. Walker has the size to be a great asset to the Trojans, but he's yet to prove that he has the motivation and the desire to live up to that potential.
RB Justin Davis: Recovering from a season-ending broken ankle sustained midway through the 2013 campaign. Expect him to return to the practice field in August, ready to resume his role as a relentless talent in the backfield.
WR Steven Mitchell: Recovering from torn ligaments in his right knee sustained last summer. A top talent in USC's 2013 class, Mitchell will look to get playing time amongst the likes of Darreus Rogers, George Farmer and incoming freshmen Adoree' Jackson, JuJu Smith and Rahshead Johnson, to name a few.
TE Randall Telfer: Recovering from a lingering knee injury. USC's only veteran scholarship tight end on roster, Telfer's presence in the fall will be very important. The new offense will utilize the tight ends a lot more than the previous scheme did, and he has the frame and the size to be a star under Sark.
LB Lamar Dawson: Recovering from a left knee injury. He will battle junior Anthony Sarao in the fall to get his starting job back, and with the progression Sarao has made and the relatively underwhelming performances Dawson has given so far, this battle could already be decided.
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