Of­fen­sive prob­lems ex­posed by de­fense

Los Angeles Times - - INSIDE BASEBALL - By Zach Helfand zach.helfand@la­times.com Twit­ter: @zhelfand

Sam Darnold ripped off his chin­strap and jogged straight to the side­line. A few min­utes later, he jogged straight to the side­line again. He ripped off his chin­strap with a lit­tle more force. A few min­utes af­ter that: same thing, this chin­strap ripped with even more vigor.

The scene re­peated it­self over and over on Sat­ur­day, when USC ran a 70-play scrim­mage. The de­fense looked scary. The of­fense looked ugly.

Darnold would run three plays, rip off his chin­strap and run straight to the side­line, the frus­tra­tion grow­ing in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent even for the usu­ally un­flap­pable quar­ter­back.

The Tro­jans’ first-team of­fense ran eight drives. They had one first down, one in­ter­cep­tion and six three-and­outs. One of those three-and­outs ac­tu­ally re­sulted in a safety, but for the sake of ex­tra rep­e­ti­tions, USC lined back up for a third down any­way. That at­tempt, too, failed.

After­ward, coach Clay Hel­ton said the de­fense played “lights out” but added, “it was good to see the re­al­ity to­day.”

The re­al­ity is, USC’s of­fense could not move the ball. The run­ning game found lit­tle space.

Darnold threw er­rat­i­cally — one pass air-mailed over his tar­get by sev­eral feet. The sec­ondary man­han­dled his pass catch­ers.

The ab­sence of tight end Daniel Ima­torb­hebhe, who has been side­lined be­cause of an in­jured hip flexor, neutered USC’s tight-end game, and USC’s re­ceivers found lit­tle space. Sev­eral Darnold passes were placed well, but his tar­get had been forced off his route.

USC’s lone touch­down came dur­ing a red-zone pe­riod, when Ron­ald Jones punched in a short run. In the same pe­riod, a high pass fa­cil­i­tated a one-handed in­ter­cep­tion by Ajene Har­ris. A mushy route by Deon­tay Bur­nett didn’t help.

It is not un­usual for the de­fense to dom­i­nate the first scrim­mages of train­ing camp. The of­fen­sive play­book is typ­i­cally more so­phis­ti­cated and pro­vides a steeper learn­ing curve. Dur­ing a game week, coaches typ­i­cally whit­tle down the play­book to a more man­age­able size.

“Once we get into play­book mode and that whole bi­ble be­comes just one spe­cific game plan, I think it’s gonna help them a bunch,” Hel­ton said.

And the Tro­jans’ de­fense is in­deed ex­pe­ri­enced, with a front seven ca­pa­ble of own­ing the line of scrim­mage. “I thought they came with an at­ti­tude,” Hel­ton said.

Hel­ton said out­side lineback­ers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosu were “phe­nom­e­nal” and cor­ner­back Iman Mar­shall “had prob­a­bly his best prac­tice of camp.”

But the scrim­mage raised sev­eral con­cerns, the same ones that have lin­gered since the off­sea­son: Can the re­ceivers, with­out JuJu SmithSchus­ter and Dar­reus Rogers, get open? Can the line open holes for run­ning back Ron­ald Jones II? “Ob­vi­ously, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hel­ton said.

More kick­ing woes

The vol­ume on both side­lines dropped about mid­way through the field-goal por­tion of the scrim­mage. By the end of it, USC’s play­ers had gone quiet. Ev­ery­one was watch­ing the kick­ers. Nei­ther could hit with any con­sis­tency.

Mike Brown made two of six at­tempts, his two suc­cess­ful tries about 40 yards and from about 45 yards. Chase Mc­Grath made one of three, from about 40 yards.

“It was not a very good out­ing by ei­ther one,” Hel­ton said. “We’ve got a lot of work to be able to do, just be­ing hon­est there.”

Brown and Mc­Grath have each had bet­ter days dur­ing camp. But the out­look was bleak enough that Hel­ton broached the idea of a more ag­gres­sive fourth­down ap­proach.

Faced with a fourth down and four yards to go, or a long field goal, Hel­ton said USC may have to opt to go for it.

“If it doesn’t im­prove,” he added.

Quick hits

Ima­torb­hebhe ran with­out a set­back this week. Hel­ton said he hopes to have him back within the next one to two weeks. … Run­ning back Aca’Cedric Ware sprained his shoul­der but is not ex­pected to miss sig­nif­i­cant time.

Mark J. Ter­rill As­so­ci­ated Press

IN EIGHT drives, USC’s first-team of­fense, led by quar­ter­back Sam Darnold, had one first down.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.