September 3, 2008

Practice Insider: Turnover Wednesday

Everson Griffen raced off the edge to get his hands in the air. He reached up, batting a pass, and the ball started to trickle towards the ground.

Out of nowhere, linebacker Malcolm Smith flung his body at the ball, trying desperately to keep it from hitting the ground. He got his hands on it, but the nose of the ball could've caught the turf.

It was close.

Then, a side judge raced into the middle of the play, signaling an incomplete pass.

Graduate assistant Chris Richard ran up to official from behind the safeties. He wanted the Trojan defense to get this pick.

"C'mon man," he said, "it's Turnover Wednesday."

This is how much of Wednesday's practice at Howard Jones Field went. The offense did it's best to protect the ball, and the defense tried to pry it loose.

USC head coach Pete Carroll's Wednesday emphasis hasn't changed much, if at all, through his tenure. It's a day where his offense and defense get to go at one another, keeping the team's competitive juices flowing during an early off week.

"We're beating on each other, trying to stay after it," Carroll said. "It's really important that we maintain our level of intensity. You can lose it. It can go away, and you can't recapture it."

The defense was able to make a number of plays on the ball, and cornerback Shareece Wright said it's what the team always tries to do.

"You're playing your game, but there's more emphasis on getting the ball out," Wright said. "I'm a corner, so I'm always trying to get a pick. Nothing changes for me with that, but we're just trying to strip the ball loose."

Wright intercepted a pass along the sideline during 11-on-11 drills.

"We don't know if it was in or out, but we'll see," Wright said. "Never mind; I got a pick."

Some of the younger Trojans made big plays Wednesday, including T.J. Bryant, who was cleared to practice at full speed after being slowed by his surgically repaired shoulder.

After being beaten by Patrick Turner on a fade, Bryant poked the ball loose from behind, causing a fumble.

Like they had every other time the ball hit the turf, the defense pounced, and after the turnover, they celebrated.

"Whatever we can do to keep the energy and the focus up, we're going to do it," Carroll said.

Tackles without tackles

After reviewing the final statistics from the Trojans' 52-7 win over Virginia Saturday, it might not seem like the interior of the Trojan line did all that much.

Fili Moala, Christian Tupou and Averell Spicer didn't combine for a single tackle.

The numbers, it seems, tell a different story from the game film.

"Fili had a great game," defensive coordinator and line coach Nick Holt said.

Moala and the two other tackles forced Virginia's running game to the perimeter, opening up plays for the Trojans' defensive ends, cornerbacks and linebackers.

"We played well," Moala said. "Sometimes, you have to play within the defense. That means spilling things to another player, containing somebody, and you just have to capitalize on what your role is."

Moala and the interior line should get a bigger test the next time they hit the field against Ohio State - a team not shy about running between the hash marks.

"This is the kind of game I look forward to, playing a power team," Moala said. "They want to try and establish their dominance. Bring it.

"I love the competition."

Extra Points

• Linebacker Michael Morgan had his second day of practice, and he made the most of it. One play after Griffen tipped a pass, Morgan batted down a ball.

During fall camp, Morgan suffered a dislocated shoulder after colliding with linebacker Uona Kavienga and Ronald Johnson.

"I was in some serious pain," Morgan said, "but it feels great now that I'm back."

• Carroll said the injury suffered by Matt Kalil in Tuesday's practice was "nothing serious," and he's being called day-to-day. Vidal Hazelton and Marc Tyler were also among the few Trojans not participating.

Hazelton said his ankle sprain is not serious. He's wearing a protective boot, and he said he could be running some by the end of the week.

• Carroll has been using the bye week to experiment with some different lineup combinations, including giving freshman Tyron Smith a look with the first-team offensive line.

Smith is lining up at left tackler, where he can benefit from playing next to Jeff Byers. Charles Brown has been moving to right tackle in with Smith getting reps with No. 1's.

Bryant and freshman Brian Baucham also got reps with the first-team defense.

• Carroll said Allen Bradford could be a perfect candidate to simulate Ohio State running back Chris Wells, but Carroll will rotate all the running backs to help the defense prepare.

Armond Armstead's reps will continue to increase as Carroll looks to see if he can be a viable backup to Moala.

"We'd love to see him step up," Carroll said.

• The funniest moment of the day came when Jordan Campbell crashed into Blake Ayles for a big hit. Ayles tried to keep his balance, stumbling back at least five yards before toppling Kaluka Maiava like he was a bowling pin.

• Johnson made Will Harris look bad on a reverse, juking the Trojan safety before speeding off to a big gain down the sideline.

• Quarterback Mark Sanchez said he's not thinking about having the upcoming week off from any game action. His mind is already elsewhere.

"I'm thinking about Ohio State everyday," he said.

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