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USC Football Fall Camp, Day 2: Defense Dominates As Kessler, Offense Run Laps

Jeremy Bergman |
August 4, 2013 | 9:12 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

The defensive line, including Leonard Williams and George Uko, swarmed the quarterbacks Sunday. (Jeremy Bergman/Neon Tommy)
The defensive line, including Leonard Williams and George Uko, swarmed the quarterbacks Sunday. (Jeremy Bergman/Neon Tommy)

On the second day of USC football fall camp, it was obvious that the revamped defensive unit had already won over the coaches, and the offensive players.

New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit impressed mightily Sunday afternoon, rattling the competing quarterback trio and locking down the aggressive and speedy Trojan wideouts.

"The energy that [the defense] came with today was really good from the beginning, the whole practice," coach Lane Kiffin said. "We're always wanting that energy from all of our units, and that's a front seven that has a lot of experience in there."

Kiffin praised freshman safety Su'a Cravens who locked down Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee on numerous plays, and even picked off on an under thrown deep ball by Cody Kessler right in front of Lee. The Heisman candidate wideout wasn't fazed by the rookie's ball skills against him.

"That's motivation for himself, " Lee commented. "I want them to make plays. Their making plays on me is gonna make me better. We wanna boost their confidence."

There was surely no shortage of confidence emanating from the defense today. The unit that has taken the brunt of the blame for numerous losses last year (at Arizona, vs Oregon) showed massive improvement today on the defensive line and in the secondary. The pressure up the middle brought from Leonard Williams and George Uko forced a sack-fumble against Kessler and a overthrown pick by quarterback Max Browne, and the red-shirted stalwarts began an enthusiastic display of taunting toward their mistaken-prone teammates.

SEE MORE: SC Football Practice Primer: Fall Camp Begins

While Browne and his offensive squad ran laps, defensive leader Hayes Pullard and Williams started hollering at them: "Run those laps! We gonna get another one!"

Though the freshman quarterback knew better than to talk back to his imposing superior, Lee had no problem jawing with the linebacker, letting him and the rest of the defense know that their dominance Sunday wasn't taken lightly.

"We have defenders talking and you just wanna do something," Lee admitted. "We got shoulder pads tomorrow so they're gonna come out hitting. We looking forward to it, we can't wait. As far as the yapping goes, we don't want the energy to die down. When you talking smack, [the energy] ain't ever gonna die down."

Picks Aplenty

Though, as Coach Kiffin pointed out, it's way too early to make a decision on the starting quarterback, or even notice major differences and consistencies between Max Wittek, Kesser and Browne, Kiffin was sure of one thing regarding his signal callers. 

"It was not a very good day," Kiffin said bluntly. "We didn't take care of the ball very well. We're forcing throws. We even had a fumble too in the pocket. When one turnover happens, we can't let that affect the next series."

But it did. The assembled media and families at practice were treated to a great display of constant defensive prowess in place of offensive rhythm. The only thing consistent about the Trojan offense Sunday was how poorly it executed plays and how often the dueling quarterbacks missed their targets. 

The last quarterback to speak to the media, Kessler knew he underperformed today: "I don't know if we took a step forward, but we got a lot of stuff to learn from. Just saying something personally, I could have done better. I just thought the rhythm was off a bit."

Max Browne gained praise from WR Marqise Lee, but threw a pick Sunday. (Jeremy Bergman/Neon Tommy)
Max Browne gained praise from WR Marqise Lee, but threw a pick Sunday. (Jeremy Bergman/Neon Tommy)

Kessler was sacked and fumbled on one breakdown on offense late in the day, and on two separate occasions missed a streaking Lee down the right sideline. The first miss was a horribly overthrown ball past the receiver who had smoothly juked his way off 1-on-1 coverage; the second was an under thrown bomb to Lee who was covered tightly by Cravens and landed in the safety's breadbasket. 

Kessler said he would take a lot of the blame, but made a note to compliment his teammates.

The quarterback claimed, "Maybe it's unfair to say we had a bad day because they had a great day and that caused us to have a bad day. "

Browne also threw a pick, but showed he had the best deep ball out of his fellow quarterbacks, especially on an impressive laser down the middle to Lee through double coverage. Still, the baby-faced freshman knows he has a way to go. 

"It feels more comfortable, but it's still pretty fast, " he said. "Before, everything was spinning, but now it's slowing down. I finally know the plays in the playbook and I know the verbage."

The quietest and most assuring performance of the day was given by Wittek, who made little, if any, mistakes in 11-on-11s and escaped the dominant front seven's pressure for most of the day, though he missed on a few short out routes to the backs. 

Though Wittek received many of the first-team reps today, Kiffin reassured that no one had separated from the pack and the deciding factors will come from "decision-making in scrimmage situations."


* The play of the day came from the most unlikeliest of players. On the final play of the day, Connor Sullivan launched a deep ball down the left sideline towards an undersized redshirt freshman wideout, Robby Kolanz. The 5-11 receiver sprawled out, diving forward to make a sensational grab and providing the struggling offense with their lone shining moment.

* Kiffin pointed out that defensive lineman Kevin Greene was tested at tight end today, due to a shortage in numbers at the position. 

* Justin Davis and Tre Madden received praise from Kiffin after practice today. Redd saw less action, as he is recovering from last spring's knee injury. 


Reach Senior Sports Editor Jeremy Bergman via e-mail or on Twitter @JABergman



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