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USC offense takes a run at the defense, and coach Clay Helton likes what he saw

After one of USC's first practices of fall camp, Clay Helton could be heard telling his players exactly who he wants them to become.

There was no need to be shy about it. The USC coach desires an offense so physically tough that it could tell the defense before every play that a run is coming and still be able to pick up the necessary yardage. He wants a defense that won’t wilt when that scenario is flipped, say, against a stubborn team such as the Stanford Cardinal.

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Wednesday, in the Trojans’ only fully padded workout of camp to this point, Helton reinforced that message. He lined the offense and defense up against one another for 20 straight plays in which the defense knew what the offense was going to run.

The atmosphere got heated, and it wasn’t just the temperature rising into the 90s. Referees were brought to regulate the battle. On one play, tailback Markese Stepp bulldozed through safety Bubba Bolden, who went for a highlight hit and didn’t wrap up. On another, tailback Stephen Carr burst through the line for a 25-yard touchdown scamper. Feeling the emotion, Carr pointed at the defender on his way to the end zone and was flagged for taunting. At one point, tempers flared between wide receiver Trevon Sidney and safety C.J. Pollard as they got tangled up. Pollard tried to trip Sidney from behind as he walked away, and Sidney swung in retaliation and connected with Pollard’s helmet. They had to be separated.

When it was over, USC’s coaches were in unanimous agreement about what they had seen.

“That’s what we want to do,” USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “That was really impressive.”

Said USC running backs coach Tim Drevno: “You want to build calluses. I just saw a really competitive football team. Guys are really lock-jawed in there, trying to knock people back.”

When Martin tallied the numbers, USC had rushed for about seven yards per carry in that session. What that means for the Trojans’ defense remains to be seen. Helton was happy to chalk it up as a win for his offense at this point in camp.

“To see the success that four good runners had in that period, as well as the offensive line, really fired me up,” Helton said. “It’s going to be something that we’re going to need, especially with a young quarterback, to have that running back by committee that just pounds and pounds and pounds.”

Saturday, the Trojans will be in full pads once again for their first live scrimmage of camp at the Coliseum. Helton said he won’t ask for such a bludgeoning experience as Wednesday.

“I’ve told Tee that I’d like to have it balanced,” Helton said. “Try to be as balanced as possible, just like we would on game day, make it as similar to a game as we can.”

Plan for quarterbacks

The scrimmage will be a big moment for JT Daniels, Jack Sears and Matt Fink in their quest to win the starting job.

Helton said he wants to run about 60 plays and try to get each quarterback some extended drives.

“My main emphasis is to really get them in the flow,” Helton said. “Even when they get stopped, maybe on a three and out, it’s going to go to first down and we’ll keep going. We’re going to try to get some eight-play drives to simulate a little bit of a longer drive.”

Gustin surgery successful

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Helton said that the surgery to repair Porter Gustin’s slightly torn meniscus was “very, very successful.”

“As you can tell, he’s already up,” Helton said. “He walked in without even crutches after it. He’s just got a unique mindset.”

The timetable for Gustin’s return is two to five weeks.

Another meniscus tear

Helton said that true freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV also has a slightly torn meniscus. Gaoteote will have surgery Monday and will be out two to four weeks.

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