Bye Week Wednesday: Notes

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Written by Max Holm, USC blog contributor

The Trojans held another laid back practice on Cromwell Field on the Wednesday of their bye week.
  • USC head coach Clay Helton said the team is at the same place they were yesterday in terms of injuries. OL Jordan Simmons, LB Olajuwon Tucker and S Leon McQuay III were all held out of practice. He added that the rest of the team is focusing on healing up from "bumps and bruises."USC_Football_2016_ASU_McGillen_d500_2786.jpg
  • After three straight wins in which the defense has held opponents to 20 points or less, Helton referenced the added pressure the team is getting on opposing quarterbacks as a big reason why. Arizona only completed one pass in the first half against the Trojans last weekend. "Clancy dialing up the pressure he is now makes it hard on offensive lines and quarterbacks," said Helton.
  • Helton said he believes individual improvement has played a huge part in this current defensive upswing. "I think [Porter Gustin] and Uchenna [Nwosu] have improved the most in pass rushing. I think they've gotten better and a lot of it has to do with being in the nickel package a lot more." Helton also noted that the team has improved on getting decent pressure with just a four man rush.
  • Chris Hawkins has noticed a change in the defense too, that he said is very noticeable out on the field. "We're flying around right now. I've never been a part of a defense that plays so fast," said Hawkins, who forced a fumble against Arizona. "The speed of our play right now is on another level."
  • When it comes to the offense that Helton's defense will be facing after their bye week against Cal, Helton said they will be up against one of the best passing attacks in not just the Pac-12 but the country. Cal quarterback Davis Webb has thrown for over 2,200 yards and 22 touchdowns though six games. "He's doing a tremendous job of getting the ball out," said Helton. "He can make any throw on the field."
  • Because of that explosive offense, Helton said he will monitor Adoree' Jackson's reps. With what Helton described as a tall order for Jackson, he said they want to be careful with Jackson next week.
  • The Trojans will have the next two days off to focus on academics, as the coaches go out for recruiting trips.
  • Watch Helton's full press conference here:

Generations: Zach Banner and Sam Baker

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USC All-Pac-12 RT Zach Banner wants his name on the All-American walk just like three-time All-American LT Sam Baker. The two big men shared a meal at Galen Center together for a new episode of Generations.

Trojan Tune-Up

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USC men's volleyball is gearing up to host a nine-team preseason tournament this Saturday at USC's Galen Center Pavilion.

Click here for the full preview.

The Trojans will split into two teams ("Cardinal" and "Gold") and will compete against Long Beach State, Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Cal Baptist, Grand Canyon and Concordia.

USC hopes to get back into the mix this season after going 7-19 in its first year under head coach Jeff Nygaard.

The team kicks off competition at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday on the upstairs courts at the Galen Center Pavilion, which is adjacent to the Galen Center. Admission to the event is free.


Bye Week Tuesday: Notes

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The Trojans enjoyed a relaxed practice on Cromwell Field at Loker Track Stadium on the Tuesday of their bye week.
  • USC_Football_Colorado_Mcgillen_2016_6031.jpgUSC head coach Clay Helton said the bye week couldn't come at a better time, as he was able to hold a number of players to get healthy. Full injury report: RB Justin Davis (ankle), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (back), OL Jordan Simmons (knee tendonitis), S Leon McQuay III (hip, groin).
  • With Steven Mitchell Jr. out for the remainder of the season due to a torn ACL, Helton said that Deontay Burnett (pictured) will step into a starting role. Burnett has 23 receptions for 229 yards and 2 TD this season.
  • Burnett said he's been in contact with Mitchell, who's in good spirits. "I told him that I'm gonna play for him," Burnett said of his teammate. "I told him every time I'm on the field, it's gonna be for him. He just told me to be who I am."
  • Last year, Burnett was buried on the depth chart, but was able to get some extra reps during the bye week, which happened for some younger players today. Helton praised QB Matt Fink, WR Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR Velus Jones Jr., WR Trevon Sidney and WR Tyler Vaughns, who saw extra playing time during today's practice.
  • "I look at those two groups there at the end in that last period, and you say, 'Gosh dang, there's the future of your football team,'" Helton said of the players who got extra opportunities today. "There's some talented young kids here, and this is quality reps for them to try to grow."
  • In RB Justin Davis' absence, Ronald Jones II has seen the field a bit more as well. Jones had a slow start to the season, but earned the start against Arizona and rushed for 81 yards and a TD. Jones said one thing he's learned to do better as the year has gone on is "recognizing the blitzes and being able to pick it up to give the quarterback time to throw."
  • Giving QB Sam Darnold time to throw has proven effective for the Trojans, as they've gone 3-1 with the redshirt freshman at the helm. Jones called Darnold "electrifying," adding that "that one play he had against Colorado, when the ball fumbled and he threw it back, it kind of reminded me of Johnny Manziel."
  • Helton and his staff will spend Thursday and Friday recruiting before getting the team back in-house on Saturday to start preparation for the Thursday night game against Cal.
  • Watch Helton's full press conference here:

Award-Winning Defense

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The Pac-12 recognized two USC women's soccer players in their weekly honors this week, as Savannah Levin was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and Sammy Jo Prudhomme was named the Pac-12 Goalkeeper of the Week.

Levin scored her first goal of the season in USC's 2-0 win over ASU this weekend and anchored the Trojan defense, which earned its ninth shutout of the year. Levin is the third Trojan this season to earn the award, as Ally Prisock and Mandy Freeman have also been honored for their defensive performances. It's the first Player of the Week award Levin has earned as a Trojan.

Prudhomme is no stranger to the Pac-12's weekly honor roll. After posting her eighth individual shutout of the season against ASU, she earned her third Goalkeeper of the Week award this year --- more than any other Pac-12 goalie can claim. She's now earned five such awards in her career.

Levin and Prudhomme have been key in carrying a USC defense that is second in the Pac-12 in goals allowed (7) and shutout games (9). Prudhomme herself leads the conference in save percentage, stopping .903 percent of the shots that have come her way.

The Women of Troy hit the field again on Thursday. They host Washington State at McAlister Field at 2 p.m.


Going the Extra Yard

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In conjunction with the College Football Playoff's Extra Yard for Teachers Initiative, USC's Trojan Outreach program presented a Los Angeles elementary school teacher with a $10,000 check today.

USC OT Zach Banner tagged along to Lou Dantzler Elementary School to surprise art teacher A.K. Usafi with the check. After Banner engaged in a Q&A regarding the importance of education and creativity through the arts, he left the stage and re-emerged to surprise Ms. Usafi.

Trojan Outreach also invited Usafi and the students at Dantzler to attend USC's Thursday night game vs. Cal on Oct. 27.

Check out the video of the surprise check presentation!

Kickin' It With Keidane - Week 9

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USC women's soccer advanced to 11-3 and 5-1 in conference play with a 2-0 win over ASU last weekend. Now, head coach Keidane McAlpine leads the Women of Troy to two more Pac-12 tilts, against Washington State (where McAlpine previously coached) and Washington.

In the latest episode of Kickin' It With Keidane, the head coach explains how the recent loss to Cal has helped the team grow, and how dangerous USC's upcoming opponents are:

Top Dog

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Following his 235-yard, 5-TD performance against Arizona on Saturday, USC QB Sam Darnold moved up to No. 1 in the nation in total QB rating, according to ESPN.

This statistic values a QB on all play types on a 0-100 scale, adjusted for the strength of the opposing defense.

Darnold sits atop the national ranking with a 91.4 total QBR. Rounding out the Top 5 are Louisville's Lamar Jackson, Washington's Jake Browning, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Toledo's Logan Woodside.

In his four starts this season, Darnold has gone 3-1, while completing 67.2 percent of his passes and averaging 299.5 pass yards per game. He has 13 pass TD on the season (11 as the starting QB), and has added 2 TD on the ground. His 137 rush yards this season are the most by a USC QB since Reggie Perry had 254 in 1991.

Darnold and the Trojans get this week off before facing Cal in a Thursday night game on Oct. 27.


2016 #USCtotheNFL Week 6

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USC's representatives in the NFL have continued to make an impact all over the field this season. Through six weeks, two Trojans (Leonard Williams and Nick Perry) rank in the Top 10 in sacks, while others lead their teams in certain categories (Robert Woods' 239 receiving yards are the most on the Bills).

kessler2-nfl.jpgThe Best

Cody Kessler had his best NFL performance to date, going 26-of-41 for 336 pass yards, 2 TD and 0 INT on Sunday. Though the Browns couldn't top the Titans in Nashville, Kessler's showing was among the best of all QBs in Week 6. Only three signal callers threw for more yards than Kessler this weekend, and they all have Super Bowl rings (Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Tom Brady). Kessler's performance earned him a nomination for the NFL's Rookie of the Week.

The Best of the Rest

Robert Woods, WR, Bills - 5 receptions, 44 yards, 1 TD, plus 1 rush for 6 yards

Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars - 6 receptions, 61 yards

T.J. McDonald, S, Rams - 4 tackles

Xavier Grimble, TE, Steelers - 1 reception, 11 yards

Josh Shaw, CB, Bengals - 8 tackles, plus 1 special teams tackle

Rey Maualuga, LB, Bengals - 2 tackles

Devon Kennard, LB, Giants - 6 tackles

Shareece Wright, CB, Ravens - 2 tackles, 1 pass defensed

Jurrell Casey, DT, Titans - 2 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defensed

Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles - 3 receptions, 34 yards

Malcolm Smith, LB, Raiders - 4 tackles, 1 TFL

Nick Perry, LB, Packers - 5 tackles

Clay Matthews III, LB, Packers - 2 tackles

Brian Cushing, LB, Texans - 8 tackles

Carson Palmer, QB, Cardinals - 23-of-34, 213 pass yards, 1 TD

Leonard Williams, DE, Jets - 5 tackles, 1 QB hit, 1 TFL

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Q&A With TaRhonda Bazille, Filmmaker of The Ryan Francis Story

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Written by Max Holm, USC blog contributor

On May 13, 2006, USC point guard Ryan Francis was shot and killed in his hometown of Baton Rouge, LA. He was just 19 years old. Ten years later, filmmaker TaRhonda Bazille produced a documentary shedding light on Francis' life, entitled "The Ryan Francis Story." USC social media intern Max Holm caught up with Bazille to discuss the making of the film.

Francis (sh).jpgMax Holm (MH): Before getting into the specific film on Ryan Francis I wanted to ask you about your background in film.

TaRhonda Bazille (TB): So I actually don't necessarily have a background in film. This is actually my first documentary that I've been blessed to be a part of. I do have a strong passion for stories, sharing stories, telling stories. That's kind of how I got into it. I wrote a book previously, so to be able to do something visually made everything OK for me. I actually have a degree in engineering so it's kind of weird, because I write as well, and the two are so different. I get asked, 'How did you get into engineering or how did you get into writing?' But as a child I always enjoyed writing and it just kind of manifested.

MH: So with this being your first film, why this story? Why Ryan Francis? What drew you to it?

TB: I would say that there are two main things that led me to tell Ryan's story. The first was his mother, Ms. Paulette. We have a really good relationship. We're very close. And I know how broken she was from the tragic loss of her only child, Ryan. Two years ago I realized that she would have conversations, whether it was me and her talking or other people, but there was always one thing you knew not to discuss and that was Ryan. It was the elephant in the room. So I wanted to change that for her. I wanted to help change her most painful memory into something special. So I went to her and got permission, and I kept her close throughout the entire process.

And then the second reason is pretty much because I've lost a lot of friends to gun violence, so much that it became the norm. And it's like, 'Oh it's another sad story,' but then it happens again. So when I looked at Ryan's life and everything that he accomplished, I truly believed that he has the platform to inspire change. So those were the two main things that led me to tell his story.

MH: Now with this film submitted to film festivals, what do you hope to achieve with this film?

TB: I'd say there are three things I truly hope to achieve: the first would be healing for his mother, the second is for people to understand that our children truly do need us and there is a major problem with violence in our inner city youth, and the third is I pretty much want people to know and remember Ryan Francis.

MH: When did you start working on the film and how long did it take start to finish?

TB: I started working on it toward the end of 2014, so almost two years. It's funny because a few years prior to me actually beginning this, my brother came to me and asked if I would do a movie about their team, because he played with Ryan in high school. I told him I'd consider but couldn't make any promises because it was such a big story, and it's the type of story you can't touch unless you give 200 percent. So I knew it would take all of my heart. When I finally felt it was time I started with making the documentary.

MH: So when did you end up wrapping up the film, final takes, edits and all?

TB: I finished all of the interviews in December of 2015. And then I took about three months to transcribe everything. I took all the interviews and detailed them word for word and created this whole Excel sheet. It was over 500 pages, it was crazy. It made the editing process so much easier, though, because I knew where everything was, who said what. I finished the editing in late July, early August.

MH: So especially since this was the first film you've worked on, what were the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of this whole process for you?

TB: I would say that from start to finish, I enjoyed the entire process. It had a lot of challenges and so many points where things could have stopped it from being completed or coming to life, but it just kept going. I think between all of the families, working schedules, gaining and giving trust --- these were people I did not know before --- it was amazing that they loved Ryan so much that they talked to me and we built these relationships. Them trusting me with their image on camera, to me that was pretty amazing. Meeting people from all walks of life all for the love of Ryan really was a big deal.

MH: Along those lines, having met all those people, who were the most interesting people you talked to? Were there any moments that stood out looking back, where you thought to yourself, 'Wow, that was really special?'

TB: I did, but to be honest I interviewed 27 people and each and every one of them was compelling. Honestly, no lie, there were so many amazing storylines. I believe that everyone can relate to at least one person or story line in the documentary. So many emotions and different stories were shared. It was unbelievable. But they all had something unique. It's crazy because many of them said some of the same things. So people were picking up off of one another and it's how you know they were telling the truth. A lot of them had very compelling story lines, from his mom to pretty much all of them. They all just had amazing stories.

MH: So gearing this film toward USC, what do you think USC and the Trojan Family, especially those that don't or didn't know Ryan Francis, can take away from this film about Ryan but also the film in general?

TB: That USC had a great impact on Ryan's life. I think that USC gave him a chance. They helped complete his story, the tail end of his time here on Earth. They took a kid that was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and they gave him a chance to live his dream. USC changed his life.