USC Football 2011 Spring Practice: Fourth Week Observations and Highlights

Bill N@@Bill_N1Correspondent IApril 17, 2011

The USC defense dominated the inexperienced and penalty-prone offense in a hot 73-play Coliseum scrimmage on Saturday.  Only one touchdown was scored on a D.J. Morgan five-yard run, and the offense had seven penalties and alignment problems by some of the freshmen players.

Head coach Lane Kiffin was understandably disappointed in the offense which had played much better in the two practices during the week.

USC safety T.J. McDonald told, “Today was the best defensive day we've had in a while. We didn't want them to score on us. That was the goal.''  The offense did not score on the first team defense.

This video hit of the day by T.J. McDonald is provided by

Enjoy these scrimmage photos by Jaime Rodriguez of and these photos by John McGillen of

The "Trojans Spring Practice Preview, Challenges and Goals" article includes individual practice session highlights in the comments, a link to the first, second and third week observations and highlights, and provides a basis for judging these spring practice sessions.

Here are some statistical highlights from the 73-play scrimmage including goal-line drills:


  • Matt Barkley 17-28-154-2-0 (2 GL TDs)
  • Jesse Scroggins 4-5-48-0-1
  • Cody Kessler 3-4-6
  • Max Wittek 1-4-33


  • D.J. Morgan 14-51-2 (1 GL TD)
  • Curtis McNeal 13-49-1 (1 GL TD)


  • Robert Woods 8-71-2 (2 GL TD)
  • Brandon Carswell 3-43
  • De’Von Flournoy 3-29


  • Marquis Simmons 6 tackles
  • Hayes Pullard 3 tackles 
  • Will Andrew 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU
  • DaJohn Harris 3 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack
  • T.J. McDonald 3 tackles, 2 TFL
  • Nickell Robey 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FF
  • Dion Bailey 3 tackles, 1 PBU
  • Dallas Kelley 1 INT


The defensive front four, with a now-healthy Wes Horton to go with Nick Perry on the outside at end and the inside duo of DaJohn Harris and George Uko is shaping up.   

The inexperienced linebackers also played well with Hayes Pullard again doing well, Marquis Simmons and Will Andrews each had six tackles, and Dallas Kelley intercepting a pass.

Of course, safety T.J. McDonald and CB Nickell Robey continued to be outstanding leading much improved defensive backs.

Coach John Baxter has three-man field goal crews sprinting out and snapping and kicking balls in less than five seconds while the offense is going one way.  Both Andre Heidari and Craig McMahon make theirs from 53 yards out.  They also converted from 51 yards in a final 11-on-11 session.

Visitors included All-Pro Carolina center Ryan Kalil was here to see brother Matt and Keyshawn Johnson addressing the team.  His message based on several personal stories was: get your degree, graduate, and be a “Trojan for Life.” reported that he said, “I root for you guys every game and get p---ed off when you lose. You all are going to be good this year."

The players hurried back to campus after practice to participate in the “Swim with Mike” charity event, which raises funds for physically challenged athletes.

Lane Kiffin post scrimmage interview courtesy of


Thursday Practice Highlights

QB Matt Barkley and WR Robert Woods were the offensive standouts again.  The last completion was an impressive one-handed TD catch on fade route to the right corner of the end zone.

USC also worked on some shotgun even though Marc Tyler and Dillon Baxter who ran it last year are absent.  McNeal made the play of the day on a 70-yard TD after an inside-out move that made two defenders end up in a pile as they tackled each other.

Jesse Scroggins is making gains on his back-up role to Matt Barkley and Kiffin says that he is better at everything.  Related story by Pedro Moura of

Safety T.J. McDonald returned after losing a tooth at Saturday’s scrimmage and intercepted two passes.  One was a deflection by Markeith Ambles who returned to practice and dropped four passes.

TE Christian Thomas did not practice due to a sore foot from Tuesday’s practice.  Rhett Ellison took reps at FB since freshman Soma Vainuku is the only other option.  USC has so many good TEs that Kiffin may do more of this in the fall.

Kiffin noted that LB Hayes Pullard stood out this spring.  Pullard is now an option to start at strongside linebacker, as is redshirt senior Shane Horton, who's also sitting out the spring. Incoming freshman Lamar Dawson could provide the last of the challenges for that spot when he enrolls at USC over the summer.

The OL remains the number one question on the team; see story by Pedro Moura of

Only LT Matt Kahil appears to be a potential starter from those able to participate in spring practice. The other scholarship OL this spring are Jeremy Galten, David Garness, Martin Coleman, John Martinez and Giovanni DiPoalo.

Khaled Holmes and Kevin Graf are mostly sitting out this spring, but they'll likely grab starting roles on the line, which leaves two open spots to be potentially filled by the incoming freshmen (Aundrey Walker and Cyrus Hobbi).  "We're going to give them all a chance," Kiffin said about the class of 2011.

Here is the post-practice interview with Lane Kiffin courtesy of, and photos by John McGillen of


Tuesday Practice Highlights

Tuesday’s practice had big plays on both sides of the ball.  After a slow-paced start, the team was ushered back through the gate for a re-start after being spoken to by Coach Orgeron.

Curtis McNeal was the MVP of the day.  He broke a 75-yard TD run on the first play of live scrimmaging.  "Curtis was about as bad as we've ever had when he got here as far as respect," Kiffin compared him to the Ambles' situation.  "He's night and day right now."

"We're just running it into the hole—and then we bounce it out," McNeal said to "Coach [Kennedy] Pola just wants us to hit the hole, then beat the safety or the corner. But hit it up in the hole real hard. It's a little different from last year."

McNeal expects to be academically eligible and he could turn into a versatile piece in the backfield and on special teams.  "Curtis McNeal would have blocked about three punts last year if we would have had him available," special teams coach John Baxter said to  "He's matured a lot in a year and he's really embracing that part of his life."

Here is the story about McNeal by Pedro Moura of

FB Soma Vainuku looked like Stanley Havili making a great catch and run on a wheel route 25 yards downfield.  He showed his grace in the catch and physicality by running over safety Cody Romness during the run instead of going out of bounds.

D.J. Morgan hit off tackle on the first running play in 11 on 11 and then beat everybody to the corner and up the sideline.  He makes you realize that's something USC has rarely been able to do since the 2005 season here.

The QB's deep throwing pays off early on a 70-yard TD bomb from Matt Barkley to Robert Woods who was way open against the backup defense.

Cody Kessler was impressive making a strong throw on the run to the sideline and a perfect deep ball.  They also let the quarterbacks, except for Matt Barkley, compete in the board (Oklahoma) drill against the kicking specialists and snappers.  Kessler proved the scrappiest of the bunch.

There were interceptions again though.  Hayes Pullard (off Kessler) had a highlight reel one-handed pick-six, while Demetrius Wright (off Max Wittek) and Patrick Hall (off a Barkley ball that somehow got through Woods’ hands at the goal line) also secured INTs.

WR Markeith Ambles was back at practice and forced to do punitive exercises for 2 ½ hours after missing Saturday's scrimmage without properly informing the coaches.  "I was upset with the coaches," admitted Ambles, who was punished during practice last Thursday because he was late to a weightlifting session on Thursday morning and didn’t tell the coaches that he had a wisdom tooth pulled Wednesday night.  "I wish I would have come.  I need to communicate better with my coaches."  Pedro Moura of has the story.

The safety position was hit with injuries with Drew McAllister (hip) and T.J. McDonald (tooth).  McDonald won the toughness award of the day.  "T.J. actually kept practicing (Saturday) after knocking his tooth out," Kiffin reported to  "They had to go in and dig it out, so he wasn't able to practice today."  McAllister aggravating one of his surgically repaired hips.

Bengals LB Keith Rivers visited practice and addressed the team afterwards.

Lane Kiffin post practice interview courtesy of


Spring Game

Two more practices before the spring game at 1:00 p.m. on April 23 at the Coliseum.  Tickets are available for $10 at the gate, online at or by calling the USC Ticket Office at (213) 740-4672. 

710/KSPN will have live radio coverage, and will host a chat during the game. Additionally, Fox Sports Net will air a special spring-football edition of “Lane Kiffin USC Football Weekly.”


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