USC’s spring scrimmage hardly hints at season ahead
For at least a few fans, USC’s spring-ending scrimmage at the Coliseum was an overwhelming success.
One youngster from the crowd passed for a touchdown on a promotional play with the Trojans and an adult caught a pass and sprinted to the end zone on another.
However, those were the only touchdowns scored Saturday as USC completed 15 workouts under new Coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff.
Before getting too alarmed, it is worth noting that dating to the Pete Carroll era, USC’s spring finale has not served as a reliable indicator of fall performance.
Rather, it’s annually an exercise in avoiding major injury while looking ahead to summer.
So a true evaluation of Sarkisian’s new fast-paced, no-huddle scheme cannot begin until USC plays its Aug. 30 opener against Fresno State at the Coliseum.
But after settling for four field goals from kicker Andre Heidari during the 85-play scrimmage, the Trojans clearly have much work ahead.
On Saturday, the attack the Trojans learned during the last five weeks produced a few highlights, but it repeatedly stalled inside the 20-yard line, even on possessions that started at the 40.
“Hopefully, next time we come out we score a few more points in the red zone and keep tackling and keep playing good defense,” Sarkisian said. “That’s the key to success when we’re playing in here come the fall.”
The Trojans have more than four months to build on a spring that allowed players to acclimate to what is an almost entirely new staff and new offensive and defensive schemes.
More than 20 players were sidelined for all or part of the spring workouts because of injuries or while recovering from surgeries. Starters such as defensive lineman Leonard Williams, cornerback Josh Shaw and safety Su’a Cravens and other key players such as tailback Justin Davis mostly observed.
“We made a lot of progress adjusting to the system,” said Cravens, who sat out the last few weeks. “A lot of young guys stepped up. I think we’ll be good.”
The defense showed its potential throughout the spring and again on Saturday, even with notable absences.
The development of linemen Delvon Simmons, Kenny Bigelow and junior college transfer Claude Pelon should bolster a line that features Williams and Antwaun Woods.
Young linebackers Scott Starr, Quinton Powell and Jabari Ruffin improved, and Cravens’ and Shaw’s absences gave younger players experience in the secondary.
“From where we started to where we finished, we got exponentially better,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “But really not close to where we need to be.”
The defense appears farther along than the offense.
Quarterback Cody Kessler completed five of 10 passes for 86 yards, backup Max Browne was six of 17 for 76 yards and Jalen Greene four of 11 for 61 yards.
“We put ourselves in position to score,” Kessler said. “We just didn’t finish.”
Sarkisian indicated that he erred in having offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn wear jersey No. 55, a number that has been reserved for top USC linebackers since the late Junior Seau wore it the late 1980s. During an interview that was broadcast in the stadium, former Trojan Willie McGinest intimated that he had reservations about an offensive player wearing the number he and other linebackers wore after Seau. Senior linebacker Lamar Dawson wears No. 55. “It was a little bit of a miscommunication on my part,” Sarkisian said after the scrimmage. “I probably dropped the ball there, so we’ll fix it.” Asked if Lobendahn would wear 55 in the fall, Sarkisian said, “probably not.” McGinest was happy to hear that. “I’m glad they recognize that and they understand that,” he said. “SC is all about tradition.” McGinest said he did not speak to Sarkisian about the issue. “He probably heard me when I was on the loudspeaker talking trash,” McGinest said, laughing. “I like to stir things up.”
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