If you have been following USC football spring practice, then the Trojan Huddle-Spring Game was very predictable. Injuries have impacted spring practice while giving freshmen and some other players an opportunity, and the results have been encouraging.
The spring game on Saturday did not have RB Marc Tyler (concussion), WR Robert Woods (ankle), and TE Rhett Ellison (back) and WR Brandon Carswell (concussion symptoms) were knocked out early.
Matt Kalil is the only offensive lineman with any experience. Other probable starters that did not play include: OL Khaled Holmes, OL Kevin Graf, WR Kyle Prater, DT Christian Tupou, DE Armond Armstead, LB Chris Galippo, LB Devon Kennard and LB Shane Horton.
Perhaps the understatement of the day was when Matt Barkley said,“You’ve got to deal with what we have. I can’t wait to have all those guys back.”
There will be 22 freshmen reporting this summer including some that may start including OL Cyrus Hobbi, OL Aundrey Walker, WR George Farmer and LB Lamar Dawson.
But, the story of spring practice is the growth of the following players: OL Matt Kalil, OL John Martinez, RB D.J. Morgan, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Brandon Carswell, TE Christian Thomas, TE Xavier Grimble, TE Randall Telfer, FB Soma Vainuku, DT DaJohn Harris, DT George Uko, DE Nick Perry, DE Kevin Greene, LB Marquis Simmons, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, S Marshall Jones, S Drew McAllister, S Demetrius Wright, CB Tony Burnett and CB Anthony Brown.
CB Nickell Robey and S T.J. McDonald are the defensive leaders and have stepped up their games. Of course, QB Matt Barkley is the offensive leader, and WR Robert Woods is even better than last season as a freshman All-American.
QB Jesse Scroggins appears to have won the back-up to Matt Barkley, and place kicker Andrei Heidari will add points this year with a more accurate and longer leg.
With so many great players absent, it is hard to put together an offense that can maintain consistent drives. WR Robert Woods hurt his ankle playing basketball on Friday, and he was the most consistent star of the offense during the spring.
The Trojans could not field two full teams, so they had the offense play the defense and kept score accordingly. The Defense (White team) was credited with three points for a stop or missed FG, five points for a turnover and seven for a TD; the Offense (Cardinal team) scoring was standard.
The Defense won 42-29 in 121 plays. There were only three penalties in the game, one by the offense and two on the defense. That is pretty amazing for a spring game with a lot of walk-on athletes participating.
Enjoy these photos of the game courtesy of John McGillen of USCTrojans.com.
Despite this, there were 16,850 fans that enjoyed the afternoon game at the Coliseum and got autographs afterwards. Since the NCAA decided to punish USC fans by not allowing them to attend practices, it was expected that the Trojan Huddle would be well attended.
Coaching legend John Robinson and Heisman QB Matt Leinart spoke to the offense before the game, and it was recorded by USCTrojans.com.
Here are the game key individual statistics courtesy of USCTrojans.com:
Matt Barkley - 22/42 for 212 yards and 2 INTs
Jesse Scroggins - 6/15 for 68 yards and 1 INT
D.J. Morgan - 14 carries for 89 yards
Curtis McNeal - 13 carries for 107 yards and 2 TDs
Dillon Baxter - 14 carries for 104 yards and 1 TD (Also 1 pass TD)
Xavier Grimble - 8 catches for 73 yards
Markeith Ambles - 6 catches for 76 yards
De'Von Flournoy - 5 catches for 62 yards
Robbie Boyer - 6 catches for 51 yards
Jawanza Starling - 9 tackles (1 for loss), 1 PD
Dallas Kelley - 8 tackles, 1 INT
Hayes Pullard - 7 tackles (1 for loss)
Nick Perry - 6 tackles (2 sacks)
DaJohn Harris - 5 tackles (2 for loss)
Brian Baucham - 1 INT
Anthony Brown - 1 INT
McNeal 49-yard TD run (Heidari PAT)
McNeal 11-yard TD run
Heidari 27-yard FG
Baxter 8-yard TD run
Baxter 3-yard pass to Barkely (Heidari PAT)
As you can see, with the passing offense limited, Curtis McNeal, D.J. Morgan and Dillon Baxter showed an explosiveness in the run game that was missing much of last season.
The pass defense had three interceptions and several sacks led by a rejuvenated Nick Perry coming off the edge. Perry has made it clear that he wants to be the USC sack leader this season and has an ambitious goal of 15.
Even though all the probably starting LBs didn’t play, both Monte and Lane Kiffin felt that they were the most improved group with Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey and Marquis Simmons showing great growth, and walk-on Will Andrew and JC transfer Dallas Kelley playing well.
The one disappointment was the play of the place kickers. True freshman Andrei Heidari has been doing well in spring practice consistently hitting over 50 yards. He made one from 27, but missed from 40 and 50 yards. There is little concern over this by the coaching staff because they know what he can do.
It was fun to see Dillon Baxter hit Matt Barkley on an unpracticed half back pass on the last play of the game.
Even though the offense was crippled by an inexperienced offensive line, there is no question that the USC defense will be much better this season. They know what they are doing and the defense has been simplified so that the players can react quickly and play faster. The defense is going to be much deeper this year also, and many players got needed experience during spring practice.
Some will make a big deal out of Matt Barkley’s two interceptions to go with many others during the spring practices. However, given some inexperienced receivers and the lack of protection, this is going to happen. Things will be better in the fall, although the offensive line may take a while to come together.
Here are some comments by Lane Kiffin courtesy of Kevin Carden of SCPlaybook.com:
“Well, I thought the story line of the day would be, if this were a real game, the play of the first-team defense, especially early on before we took some guys out. The two defensive ends played extremely well today, (along with) T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. That was good to see.”
“It was good that we stayed healthy for the guys that did play, which is always a scare in this game, especially with what happened last year (Christian Tupou ACL). That was good. Some guys did come out of the game with injuries, but we don’t think any of them are very severe. The most severe maybe would have been Rhett (Ellison), but he’s already been X-rayed, and they were negative with his back.
“The offensive line has the most work by far. As you saw today, we basically played with one player who has played college football, significant snaps of college football. We have a lot of work to do there.”
Here is Lane Kiffin’s post game interview courtesy of USCTrojans.com.
There is no question that USC has a lot of work to do this summer and fall to identify all the starters and back-ups, and get ready for the September 3 opener against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
P.S. For those interested, here are articles about spring practice and each of the weekly reports: