Quarterback Cody Kessler Photo credit Lisa Horne
A spring game is simply a culmination of football players shaking off the rust and getting back into shape. The head coach keeps score via a complex system that rewards every side points. No one has been able to really explain a spring game's scoring system.
Still, some important aspects of a team's growth can be gleaned from spring games.
USC had some glaring issues last season. The kicking game was not consistent. Fourth quarters were not for the faint of heart. The offense lacked creativity and urgency. The defense gave up big plays and tended to be lulled to sleep. Penalties killed many Trojan drives and kept opposing teams' offenses moving the chains.
So what should fans look for on Saturday as signs of improvement?
Andre Heidari has used up his eligibility so a new placekicker must be found. Heidari had some great moments at USC but injuries also hampered his mobility and range. Saddleback Junior College transfer Matt Boermeester has a cannon left leg. At one March practice he was nailing field goals from midfield--they were also line drives and he didn't have any defensive pressure.
If Boermeester can hit the long range field goals with players in his face then the Trojans have a huge weapon.
USC's pass defense had epic breakdowns during critical times last season. Covering JuJu Smith, Isaac Whitney and Steven Mitchell is a monumental task for any defensive back. USC's secondary will be under duress on Saturday. Look for more aggressive play from the back seven--especially from the cornerbacks--but keep in mind the defense is covering one of the best receiving corps in the nation.
USC's defense looked fairly nasty against the run in March. My concern is that it was much more stingy on the perimeter than it was in the middle. USC's front seven may be able to stop off tackle runs and jet sweeps, but can it stop a 32-blast up the middle? We may not know until fall camp.
The Trojan's offense should be ahead of the defense in spring practice because the offense returns almost intact. Expect some huge gains up the middle until everyone settles into their new roles.
Linebacker Lamar Dawson has recovered from a torn ACL so that is a bonus. But tackles Kenny Bigelow and Antuan Woods have missed practice due to injury. So has defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. The good news is that the 2's and 3's have had a lot of reps which could translate to a more experienced defensive line.
Cody Kessler will not be challenged at starting quarterback. The back-up will be relieving Kessler but because he'll also probably be starting at quarterback next year, Saturday will be a peek into USC's future. Max Browne is the front runner simply because he has game time experience and knows the playbook. He has also had a spectacular spring camp thus far. But true freshman Ricky Town has been impressive, albeit inconsistent, as well. Keep your eyes on these two.
Will the playcalling get more creative this year? Head coach Steve Sarkisian will not be opening up the playbook on Saturday, nor in the first few weeks of September. The Trojans open the 2015 season with back-to-back dates against Arkansas State and Idaho and should be four-touchdown favorites. USC faces Stanford on September 19.
Bottom line? Soak in the glorified scrimmage. Enjoy the lights out offense but expect vanilla playcalling. Keep your eye out for Boermeester. Look for tighter coverage from the cornerbacks and excellent perimeter containment.
USC's spring game is scheduled for Saturday, April 11 at 3 p.m. in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Coliseum. The game will be aired live on Pac-12 Networks.