USC's defensive front leads scrimmage

The Trojans wrapped up the second week of spring ball with a scrimmage at the Coliseum that featured a strong performance from the defensive front.

“I really thought the front seven on the first-unit defense played well,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Hayes Pullard played great at linebacker while George Uko and Leonard Williams were dominant up front. The defense is really picking things up with the new scheme. I can’t imagine being more pleased.”

Pullard led the way for the defense with six tackles, including one for loss, while Kenny Bigelow added two sacks and Anthony Sarao had four tackles.

The offense was led by Cody Kessler, who continues to split time with Max Browne while Max Wittek is out with a knee injury. Kessler (13-19, 161 yards, one TD) provided the highlight play of the day with a 75-yard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor while Browne (6-9, 69 yards) added a big play of his own with a 52-yard completion to Darreus Rogers. Buck Allen was the top rusher on the day with 11 carries for 65 yards.

“Kessler played great today,” Kiffin said. “He just continues to make plays. I thought Buck had a good day, too. He’s had a good camp overall.”

Kiffin confirmed that the injury to Wittek – who is expected to return to the field when the team comes back from spring break on March 26 – likely means that the quarterback competition will not be settled by the end of spring.

The injury bug continues to be a factor for the Trojans as it was announced after the scrimmage that both Silas Redd and Chad Wheeler will miss the remainder of spring drills. Redd has a torn meniscus and will undergo surgery on Tuesday. Wheeler has a PCL injury. Other players who sat out today included Su’a Cravens, Kevon Seymour, Xavier Grimble and Justin Davis.

“We’re kind of beat up right now,” Kiffin said. “This is why we didn’t hit as much in the past but we made a change in philosophy and we’re going to stick with it for spring. We had 10 guys out today and we lost a couple more during the scrimmage. The good news is that we schedule the break this way during spring for a reason so hopefully we can get some guys back healthy.”

Despite all the injuries, there were plenty of good plays for the Trojans to take away from the day.

Pullard tripped up Agholor on a reverse play for no gain. Agholor took a bubble screen and made Torin Harris miss before gaining 9 yards. Kennard had a sack on Kessler and Allen had a 9-yard run up the middle. Kessler hit Agholor on a streak pattern against Harris for a 75-yard score.

Bigelow had a sack on Browne after beating Jordan Simmons. Later in that drive, Browne lofted a pretty deep ball to Rogers for 52-yard gain to the 2-yard line, but Rogers left after the play with a shoulder injury. Allen punched the ball in for a short touchdown.

Kessler hit George Farmer with a pair of passes to start a drive. Kessler moved the ball inside the 5-yard line but the defense, particularly Lamar Dawson, held with a nice goal line stand. Soma Vainuku was stopped on a first-down carry for no gain by Dawson and Demetrius Wright. Kessler tried a screen pass to Jahleel Pinner in the left flat but Dawson hustled out quickly and stopped him short of the end zone. D.J. Morgan tried a run up the middle but once again it was Dawson making the play.

One interesting position note is that Max Tuerk and Marcus Martin alternated at first unit center today and Kiffin said they will evaluate during the break to see how to proceed. Martin spent time during the last two practices at center and has looked good. Kiffin said that Martin and Tuerk are two of the best five linemen on the team so they will be in the lineup, it’s just unclear at this point which spots they might play. The only fumbled snap today was during drills prior to the scrimmage by Cyrus Hobbi.

Among the notables in attendance were 2014 recruits Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra) and USC verbal Toa Lobendahn (La Habra, Calif./La Habra) as well as Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, brother of USC senior associate athletic director J.K. McKay. Rich McKay addressed the team about the importance of off-field decision-making and how that can impact draft status.