Defense has upper hand in USC situational scrimmage

Defense has upper hand in USC situational scrimmage
Trojans linebacker Michael Hutchings returns an interception during USC's scrimmage on Saturday. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

USC players donned their game uniforms Saturday for a situational scrimmage that ended training camp.

But the Trojans offense did not look game ready.


Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne started slow and struggled to consistently sustain drives.

Tailback Tre Madden and receiver Isaac Whitney lost fumbles, and the offensive line allowed pressure from defensive linemen and linebackers.

"We have to find a way as an offense, when things don't go great in the first or second quarter of a game to regroup and then play good football," Coach Steve Sarkisian said, adding "That didn't happen today."

The Trojans begin fall semester classes Monday. They have two weeks to prepare for the Sept. 5 opener against Arkansas State.

Asked to evaluate the first two weeks of practices, Sarkisian responded, "I wish we had two more."

On the bright side, the Trojans defense responded with a physical performance.

During stretching exercises, Sarkisian had admonished players to play with more consistent aggression.

The defensive players did so.

Nose tackle Antwaun Woods stripped the ball from Madden, freshman linebacker Porter Gustin sacked Browne for a safety and linebacker Michael Hutchings intercepted a pass by Browne, returning nearly the length of the field before he was tackled just shy of the goal line.

"I felt like we did pretty well," defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said, "but I also feel like there's a lot of room for improvement."

Sarkisian is seeking marked improvement from Kessler and Browne in scrimmage situations.

Kessler passed for two touchdowns, Browne for one. Neither performed as well as they have in practices.

"We were very average today at best," Sarkisian said of the quarterbacks.

Offensive players were not made available to the media.


Dominic Davis breaks out

Freshman Dominic Davis capitalized on ample opportunities as a running back, receiver and kick returner.

Davis caught a swing pass from Kessler and scored a touchdown. He also ran for a short touchdown and returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the scout team.

"He's an electric guy," Sarkisian said. "When he gets to the edge he can create plays with his legs with his speed. I like him because he's tough."

Davis, who played at Mission Hills Alemany High, is generously listed at 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds.

"This scrimmage, to me, was about finding out who's going to play when it's time to play," Sarkisian said. "I think [Davis] showed up [Saturday] and said, 'I'm capable of playing football here at USC.' "

Mike Garrett returns

Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett received a standing ovation from the crowd at the annual "Salute to Troy" event at Cromwell Field.

Garrett attended the event as part of the celebration to honor the 1965 Trojans team. Garrett was USC's first Heisman Trophy winner that season.

"It is really an honor to be here tonight," Garrett said from the stage with teammates.

Pat Haden replaced Garrett as athletic director in August 2010, two months after the NCAA handed down sanctions against USC.

Quick hits

Freshman quarterback Sam Darnold did not participate in the scrimmage. "This was a ones and twos scrimmage," Sarkisian said. ... Tailback Justin Davis, offensive linemen Chad Wheeler and Damien Mama, and linebacker Lamar Dawson were among the players who did not participate because of injuries. ... The Trojans resume practice Tuesday at 8:15 a.m.