Spring games are essentially meaningless in terms of predicting how a team performs the following season, but USC proved one thing Saturday at the Coliseum: It remains popular with the fans.
An announced crowd of 22,788 attended USC’s spring game and enjoyed a scrimmage geared to providing eye-pleasing plays for the offense. The scoring system employed by USC coach Steve Sarkisian certainly favored the offense, which defeated the defense, 37-23.
“It’s meant for the fans to enjoy the game and for the offense to look good,” said linebacker Su’a Cravens, who tied a team-high with five tackles and a sack.
Backup quarterback Max Browne was showcased the most and completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns. Browne looked poised and performed like he did during spring practices.
“That was the goal,” Browne said. “When I go in there, we don’t want to lose a beat.”
Starter Cody Kessler completed 8 of 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown in a fairly workmanlike effort. Despite his stats, the first-team offense probably scored less touchdowns than expected.
Perhaps the real stars were the wide receivers. Despite dropping more passes than usual during spring drills, wide receiver JuJu Smith promptly dominated the scrimmage with nine catches for 152 yards and a touchdown.
“Just coming out and finishing strong was awesome,” Smith said.
Fans also got their first chance to see a healthy Steven Mitchell, who caught seven passes for 90 yards, including a 60-yarder over the middle that looked like a touchdown until cornerback Adoree Jackson ran him down.
“It’s a big weight off (my) shoulders to come here and perform,” Mitchell said. “I was able to show the crowd what I can do.”
JC transfer Isaac Whitney also made a nice impression with five catches for 45 yards.
Where’s the rush?
One thing USC did not do with much success was run the ball. Tailback Justin Davis lost 2 yards in four carries. Walk-on James Toland gained 8 yards in three carries while fullback Soma Vainuku gained 6 yards in three carries.
“We’re going to run the ball well,” Sarkisian said. “That just wasn’t the emphasis today.”
Tailback Tre Madden was held out as he recovers from a fractured toe but should be fine by the fall. USC will also add several freshman tailbacks. But at this point, it will be a question if the Trojans can replace Javorius Allen, especially in short-yardage situations.
Smith’s a showman
Smith dunked the ball over the goal post after one touchdown catch.
“If Adoree can do a flip in the bowl game, can I at least do something?” Smith joked.
He also tried to hug a sideline reporter after another touchdown.
“She was cute,” Smith said.
USC needs to replace four-year starting kicker Andre Heidari, but that does not look like an issue. Matt Boermeester kicked 52- and 39-yard field goals and Alex Wood made 51- and 35-yard field goals.
Defensive tackle Claude Pelon did not play in the game because he dropped a class and is no longer considered a full-time student. Sarkisian said it would not affect his eligibility in the fall.
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