LOS ANGELES -- After taking part in an early evening practice on Wednesday, the Trojans went right back to the grind Thursday afternoon, impressing USC head coach Lane Kiffin with their ability to bounce back with another strong bowl game workout after such a short break.
“It’s not easy, they’re coming back after a later practice yesterday -- less than 24 hours off for back-to-back, full-padded, full-tackling practices -- that’s very unusual,” Kiffin said. “So, I thought they responded well.”
The unorthodox schedule over the last two days occurred primarily because of finals, but Kiffin believes that there is also some strategic value in it.
“One of the things about bowl games is trying to get players to buy into the [idea] that it’s not a soft, long time atmosphere -- rather than tell them, ‘Well, we still have 10 more [practices or] we still have 9 more,’ " Kiffin said. “The problem with that is then you’re finally practicing, and you’ve had a long layoff of having really physical stuff. So our plan has been to have a couple of really hard ones right now, almost as if you’re playing a game.”
USC defense gets improved look at Yellow Jackets offense
The USC defense continued in their preparation for a highly regarded Georgia Tech triple-option offense that amasses an average of 312.5 yards rushing per game. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but as defensive line coach Ed Orgeron noted, the defense made great strides Thursday, thanks in large part to a much-improved effort by the Trojans scout team in just their second day of running out of the intricate offensive set.
“The service team made a tremendous improvement today,” Orgeron said. “You know, we showed it to them on the table, they were supposed to look at it, they went and did it for the first time…not good at all. And then today they did it better. Our assignments were better today.”
USC sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard, who figures to play a key role against the Yellow Jackets, also noticed the difference in play on the defensive side of the ball.
“Getting coached by Coach [Monte] Kiffin, and then Coach Orgeron -- they’ve made it where we can kind of understand it. It’s a powerful offense, it’s tricky, but at the same time you’ve got to make sure you don’t let any big runs go. You’ve got to go in there and read your keys at all times.”
Georgia Tech fullbacks present challenge
While Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington and A-Back Orwin Smith grab most of the headlines offensively, Orgeron has also been particularly impressed with the play of David Sims and Zach Laskey, the Yellow Jackets fullbacks (also called B-Backs), who have combined for more than 1,100 yards on the ground, adding a multi-dimensional element to the team's offense.
“They’ve really done a good job of establishing the fullback, so you’ve got to be able to tackle that fullback,” Orgeron said. “He’s really been busting people up the middle. It’s all over the place. The quarterback is good, they pitch the ball well, they’re very, very efficient. There‘s not one more important [player] than the other one.”
There was a new face in pads, as wide receiver Darreus Rogers took part in his first practice as a Trojan. Originally a member of the Class of 2012, the Carson (Calif.) product was just recently cleared academically and admitted to the school. Eligible to practice with the team immediately until they depart for El Paso, he caught Kiffin’s eye on Thursday.
“Obviously it’s hard because you’re coming in and practicing with guys who have been doing it for a long time, but you can see that he’s very talented,” Kiffin said.