USC Football

USC optimistic after First LIVE Scrimmage

March 23, 2019

With six spring practices in the books, Saturday marking USC’s first with live 11-on-11 scrimmaging, Trojans head coach Clay Helton is quite optimistic.

“Today was an unbelievable day,” said Helton. “It was great to have a competitive atmosphere.”

USC has nine practices remaining to finish the spring over the course of the next three weeks. Helton emphasized how fast the offense looks with a new system in place. Under first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, the Trojans are focused on keeping defenses off balance.

“You don’t realize how fast it goes and how fast you’ve got to get your eyes back for the next play,” said Helton.

Among the quarterbacks group, JT Daniels, Matt Fink and Jack Sears have impressed coaches by trimming down body fat. According to Helton, Daniels weighed 220 pounds last season but has cut nearly 10 pounds since. Leaner body types will be required to orchestrate the Trojans new offense, a simple and loose system that’ll leave room for improvisation from time to time.

“There’s going to be times you’ll need to create within the offense,” said Helton. “Somebody falls down and you’ve got to create in the pocket.”

Helton also discussed the improvements of Daniels, Sears and Fink over the past year.

“Anytime that you gain a year, I’ve seen it with each and every quarterback,” he said. “When you’re in a college style strength and conditioning program, you’re adding core strength, you’re adding overall strength.”

Fink has grown significantly since entering the program in the spring of 2016.

“I was kidding with Matt that when he first got here he was just a skinny string bean and now he’s a full grown horse.”

Daniels, who started 11 games in 2018 and tossed for 2,672 yards, has a solid start to the 2019 spring behind him. He continues to improve his leadership skills and command of the offense. Helton’s been impressed with Daniels ability to quickly earn the respect of his teammates, despite graduating from high school one year ahead of time and only being on campus for one full season.

Elsewhere on the Trojan offense, upperclassmen running backs Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr missed two of the week’s three practices due to the flu. Both participated in what Helton described as “functional football movement” at Saturday’s practice but didn’t play in full contact 11-on-11.   

“We got them lathered up today,” said Helton. “They got to play a little bit in some individual work and they’ll be back next week.”

In place of Malepeai and Carr, redshirt freshman tailback Markese Stepp has taken the majority of the reps and impressed. The 6-foot, 230-pound bulldozer played four games in 2018 (Colorado, Arizona State, Cal, Notre Dame) at tailback and on special teams.

“When you get in those live periods you see his value,” said Helton. “A lot of times, everybody thinks they’re getting him sometimes when they thud him up or touch him. That's a big man to get to the ground and by far had a great day today.”

On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore safety Talanoa Hufanga suffered an upper body injury during live scrimmage action. Helton said the injury appeared to be on the same side as his season-ending right collarbone break from 2018 against Arizona State.

Helton said, “We’ll have to see exactly what it is. The good news is we are in spring, it is March and like I told him he’ll be 100 percent by the time we get to fall camp.”


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USC optimistic after First LIVE Scrimmage

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