The USC football team football walked away from its 60-play live scrimmage at the Coliseum on Saturday with some positive takeaways, and some areas for improvement.
The area with the biggest questions entering the day was the defense, under the watch of new coordinator Todd Orlando. It was the first opportunity for the defense to show what it had in a live, game-like situation.
Orlando simplified everything for the scenario, allowing the players to just play and learn how to communicate with each other in the new scheme. Head coach Clay Helton said the defensive front led the unit, particularly tackle Marlon Tuipulotu.
“The last phase, we put the ball down on the 10-yard-line, had first-and-goal, four downs to get it in, end of game situation, and the defense held true. It was the defensive front that got it done,” Helton said.
That said, the defense struggled in some of its one-on-one matchups in the pass game, Helton said.
Some of that is the difficulty of the matchups against receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. But Helton said he can still see improvements in the cornerback unit as Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Chris Steele and Olaijah Griffin compete against the USC wide outs.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Helton said. “They’re not a finished product yet by no means, but gosh almighty, they’ve made advances in the time they’ve been working with [cornerbacks coach Donte Williams]. So we need them to play big, especially in this defense.”
On the flip side of that is strong performances from the USC receivers. Freshman Bru McCoy had not had the chance to play in a live situation for USC after an illness knocked him out of most of last year’s practices.
But he took the opportunity and made an impression.
“I thought he had a good day. It was nice to see him really show his skill level and see what he can do. He looked extremely comfortable out there,” Helton said. “I definitely see him contributing. Now, how much of a contribution will be up to him and how he continues to perform over the next two weeks.”
Helton also raved about the play of quarterback Kedon Slovis and his situational awareness, calling it the sophomore’s best day of camp. But the offense had its shortcomings, too, with the offensive line getting flagged for some holding penalties.
“We got a little handsy inside and created some second-and-longs for us and ended drives,” Helton said. “There were good things that happened and definitely some things we’re going to have to learn from. We’re fortunate we’re going to get two more opportunities to get back in there the next two Saturdays. We need them, to be honest with you.”
Linebacker Juliano Falaniko sprained his ankle in practice last Thursday. It won’t require surgery, Helton said, but he is expected to miss several weeks.
Safety Dorian Hewett suffered a back injury in practice last week but was expected to return to action in Monday’s practice. Outside linebacker Kana’i Mauga (hamstring) has started running, and Helton expects him to be healthy and active for the season opener against Arizona State.