Clay Helton breathed a sigh of relief.
The USC coach said he would finally get a good night’s sleep after seeing noticeable improvement from the Trojans’ young quarterbacks during a scrimmage Saturday.
“We needed this day offensively,” Helton said. “They built some confidence and now hopefully we can carry it over through next week.”
The scrimmage marked the best performances through 12 workouts by third-year sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears, who have recently been plagued by turnovers and at times have struggled to locate receivers.
But on Saturday, Fink played steadily, completing several short to mid-range throws, with no turnovers, and after an early miscue, Sears proved he could bounce back.
“Not where we we want them yet, but you have seen improvements,” Helton said. “And it was great to see those kids find the one-on-one opportunity today and give the receivers chances.”
During his first series, Sears was backed up in the end zone when he attempted a short pass. Cornerback Jonathan Lockett jumped the route, intercepted the pass and returned it a few yards for a touchdown.
The next series, Sears threw a deep pass down the sideline to Velus Jones Jr., who pulled away from the secondary for an 85-yard score.
Sears followed with another deep pass to Jones and a couple of mid-range completions. Jones also scored on a sweep.
“He made three explosive plays today,” Helton said of Jones, who has had a breakout spring as he competes for a starting role. “He’s been pushed to the forefront and asked to do a little bit more and challenged to do a little bit more.”
After several practices that seemed to yield little quarterback progress, Helton said Saturday’s performances could provide a confidence boost through the remaining three practices.
“It was the best function of the quarterbacks,” Helton said, adding, “The mind-set offensively today was where we want it.”
Lockett’s interception was his second this spring. The fifth-year senior is competing for a starting spot after he was sidelined last season following hip surgery.
“He’s always been a great guy who has great ball skills,” Helton said earlier this week. “He’s really doing a nice job out here.”
Fink completed a mid-range throw to Tyler Vaughns, whom Marshall stripped, then returned the takeaway 40 yards for a touchdown.
Tailbacks Aca’Cedric Ware and Vavae Malepeai broke several runs throughout the scrimmage.
“The tone was set by the offensive line and the physicality of both Ced and Vae,” Helton said. “The way they ran the ball downhill… they came with the right mind-set.”
Ware has received a bulk of the carries this spring with Stephen Carr sidelined after undergoing back surgery.
Malepeai was sideline and slowed for several practices because of a hamstring injury.
Saturday was Malepeai’s most productive workout.
Quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis returned after missing Thursday’s practice for the birth of his daughter… Players were not available to the media Saturday.