In a game that was at times sloppy, the Trojans put on a good show and found out some things about its team. In my last two posts, previewing the offense and defense, I highlighted a player from each unit that I feel needs to step up this spring. Most of the players who were expected to step up, did, including a few surprises, namely Hershel Dennis, who is awaiting a decision by the NCAA to grant him a sixth year of eligibility. The new crop of WR's looked great, including sophomore Travon Patterson, who was featured on Sunday's edition of the LA Times. Senior LB Thomas Williams also was impressive as he filled in for the injured Brian Cushing. The following is my review from yesterday's scrimmage.
The running game, with the four freshman running backs out nursing injuries, was led by the three seniors: Dennis (pictured above), last year's leading rusher Chauncey Washington, and Desmond Reed, who appears to be back to form, prior to the devastating knee injury he suffered in the tall grass of Notre Dame Stadium in October of 2005. Dennis looked simply amazing and reminded me why he started over Trojan greats Reggie Bush and LenDale in 2003. He showed the explosiveness we all remember on his first carry, making a defender miss in the backfield and taking it 22 yards to set up a first and goal situation for the offense. Dennis later capped off the drive with a powerful inside run from two yards out for the touchdown. On a later play, Hersh caught a middle screen from QB Mark Sanchez and raced around the left side of the defense and turned up the jets as he hit the sideline, outrunning Rey Maualuga and others for a crowd pleasing 43 yard TD catch. Desmond Reed showed quickness and a burst out of his cuts that we have not seen from him since that gruesome knee injury. However, he looked somewhat hesitant and tentative when the hole wasn't there. Reed displayed good hands and ran great routes out of the backfield and should be a good third down back for the Trojans this fall. Reed also may have staked his claim to assume punt returner duties after taking back a punt 74 yards for a TD. Though he didn't produce a big play like Dennis or Reed, Chauncey Washington was the best runner of the day. He broke into the secondary on several of his runs, showing toughness and aggressiveness on all his carries.
The passing game looked shaky at times, with the QB's throwing a combined 5 INTs, but they got some encouraging results from the young WR's. Booty looked sharp for the most part. He was intercepted by Keith Rivers on his first drive, but then reeled of 14 consecutive completions to finish 15 for 17 with 2 TDs and 2 INTs. The other INT came on a broken play where Booty's attempted screen pass was tipped by a defensive lineman to another defensive lineman for the pick. Sanchez, who finshed 11 for 23, had an inconsistent day, throwing 2 beautiful touchdown passes, but he also threw 2 INTs, and had several poorly thrown passes and a fumbled snap. The WR's shined, making big plays, albeit, against a short-handed secondary. Patrick Turner and Vidal Hazleton ran with the first team offense, and each recorded a touchdown.
Hazleton, high-stepped his way into the endzone on his TD catch, prompting Coach Carroll to tell the officials to flag him for unsportsmanlike conduct. Carroll was visibly perturbed by Hazleton's celebration, as USC was forced to kick the extra point 15 yards further than normal. David Ausberry seemed to struggle a bit versus bump and run coverage, but made several impressive grabs. He seems fit to play the Mike Williams/Dwayne Jarrett role in our offense and I'm pleased with his development.
As I mentioned above, Patterson seemed to have the best day, getting behind the defense twice on scoring passes from Sanchez and Michael McDonald, and returning a punt for a TD. But TE Fred Davis and FB Stanley Havili also had nice showings. Havili proved why the coaching staff values the fullback position so much. He was moved around alot too, motioning up to the line of scrimmage as a wing, and even being split out wide in an empty backfield set. He showed excellent hands, and ran well after the catch.
The offensive line played well too. The defense wasn't allowed to sack or even hit the QB, but rarely did the guys under center face pressure in the pocket. The line has to be credited too for the impressive showing from our running backs. The only injury scare from the scrimmage was Matt Spanos, who started the game at center. Scott Wolf reports that Spanos suffered a high ankle sprain and could be out for quite some time. The starting offensive line featured LT Sam Baker, LG Jeff Byers, Spanos, RG Chilo Rachal, and RT Drew Radovich. Jeff Byers moved over to center when Spanos went down and Tiny Malu came in at LG, so it'll be interesting to see how the line looks in the last week of spring practices as the team heads into the fall.
There wasn't much to critique about the defense. They played well when you consider the injuries. The offense only produced one big play and two semi-big plays on the day, the big one was that fantastic catch and run by Dennis off the screen pass. The two not-so-big plays were Travon Patterson's 33 yard TD catch where he just ran past a helpless backup defender, and Vidal Hazleton's 34 yard TD reception following a missed tackle by FS Taylor Mays.
Mays was a non-factor on defense, missing more tackles than he should, including the one that led to the TD, but he did have the hit of the day. Early in the game, Booty rolled to his right and dumped it to FB Stanley Havili, who was then trucked by Mays for a 3 yard loss. CB's Cary Harris and Shareece right started the game and showed some decent coverage skills. They also were more than willing to come up to support the run, notching several open field tackles of Chauncey, Hersh, and Reed.
The linebackers played well, showing off their power and speed, but the standout was Thomas Williams. He proved to be more than capable of playing the strong side (SAM) linebacker position currently held by the injured Brian Cushing. If Cushing is slow to recover from his hamstring injury, or is unable to adapt to his new role after playing close to the line of scrimmage last season, Thomas should fill in nicely. Rivers and Maualuga played well against the run and the pass, and backup LB Kaluka Maiava had an interception.
The defensive line was solid. USC knows what it is getting out of Lawrence Jackson and Sedrick Ellis, but others made some nice plays as well. Alex Parson intercepted Booty's attempted screen pass, and Kyle Moore showed outstanding athletic ability by intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass intended for one of the backs on a wheel route. Moore displayed quickness and hustle and may have gone a long way to securing the starting DE position opposite of Lawrence Jackson.
All in all, it was a productive scrimmage, as both offenses moved the ball well under Booty and Sanchez. There was only one reported injury (M. Spanos), which is always important, and the players went out and competed. I can't wait when the team is full squad in the full with the arrival of the 2007 recruiting class, and the rehab of our injured player. Stay tuned for more news throughout the off-season.