The Trojan Huddle at the Coliseum marked the 15th and last spring practice of the season. Thousands of Trojan fans old and young streamed into the stadium to watch the team in a controlled scrimmage. It was a beautiful day with a distinct chill in the air especially when the breeze blew through the peristyle. USCFootball.com has a recap and pictures from the event.
We arrived around 10 AM when the gates first opened and there were already plenty of people there ahead of us. The lines to get tickets and enter through a single gate started to spiral around in endless circles but everyone eventually got in. They even started the scrimmage 20 minutes late to accommodate everyone who was trying to enter. Since Nichole, Denise and I arrived early we took an hour or so to hand out "Fight On! USCFootball.com" stickers that were a big hit. They were all over the stadium, thanks to everyone for wearing them!
After watching several practices this spring, I would have to say the offense looked about as bad as I have seen. There was two offensive touchdowns all afternoon and one of which was in an overtime drill where the ball starts at the 25 yardline. The defense really ruled the day which isn't necessarily a bad thing considering this is going to be one of the best defensive teams in the nation. It can only help the offense to play against these monsters day in and day out.
On special teams the only thing I wanted to see was a great kick return. With all the speed USC has it has been a crime that no long returns occurred in 2002. Things were a little rough all day for the kickers; Kileen missed his only two field goal attempts and two punts were blocked for Malone. One resulted in a safety and one in a touchdown by Ryan Ting. The wind was blowing hard but the punt blocks were breakdowns in the protection. I finally got my wish however when Justin Wyatt returned a punt for a touchdown. He made some great moves and it was easily the most exciting play of the afternoon. I wasn't disappointed that the coverage gave up the run, it was just nice to see a burner back there making moves and pushing the ball up field for a big gain.
Pete Carroll named sophomore Matt Leinart the #1 quarterback but the job is still open to competition before the Auburn game. Matt did get the most snaps which is one of the advantages of being the top dog. He also had the only touchdown pass of the day, a nice one to Mike Williams. The rest of the time he looked just so-so as did Hance and Cassel had the roughest outing of the three. Billy Hart didn't really get a chance today; they just used the top three Qbs.
There was some tremendous pressure put on all the quarterbacks which can certainly have an effect on how they play. The early possessions were mostly three and out endeavors. Hance actually had a decent drive going that stalled and led to a missed 44-yard field goal. His drives I thought looked the best of all three the guys today, but he didn't put the ball in the end zone. They did put Hance in the shotgun once or twice as well. The offense also tried some quick snaps to catch the defense off guard. It worked OK once, and later the offense went too quick and got a motion penalty.
Cassel never seemed to get in rhythm and had his share of sacks like the other quarterbacks did. I don't even remember him completing a pass. He did have a touchdown drive but it came on three straight Hershel Dennis runs that went 25 yards for the final score. Dennis really was the offensive star with some great moves and powerful runs. The defense got to him in the backfield a bunch of times, but when he had a little seam he could make people miss and get a positive gain on the ground.
Defensively Coach Carroll had to be pleased. The defensive linemen made play after play, getting a bunch of tackles and constant pressure on the ball. The linebackers were also making plays with Lofa Tatupu, starting middle linebacker, and backup Dallas Starz catching my eye fairly often. Sartz has a way of being around the ball a lot in practice and even in the games he got into last year during garbage time, he always was around to make a play.
Greg Farr had to be happy with an interception he nabbed today. The pass went off the hands of Mike Williams and Farr dove on it before it hit the ground for the INT. Williams had some hands issues early on and looked better as the day progressed.
The final score was the offense 33 and the defense 26 but I would equate that to some sort of Olympic boxing score system. The offense got points for any points they scored (TD, extra point and field goal) plus 2 points for each first down. The defense got 3 points for a turnover and 2 for a defensive stop.
Before the scrimmage ended the announcer came on and informed people not to enter the field of play. After the last play Coach Carroll took the microphone and thanked people for coming and really encouraged them to bring everyone they know to fill the Coliseum for the first game after they beat Auburn. That of course drew applause but not as much as his next statement which was an invitation for everyone to come down and meet the team.
All the players were very gracious signing autographs, taking pictures and talking to fans. Many of the proud parents were about as well as incoming freshmen from the class of 2003 and junior prospects for the class of 2004. The biggest crowds were around Mike Williams and Pete Carroll who were in circles 10-deep with autograph seekers.