Second-year running backs Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan took the lion's share of the carries during Monday's scrimmage at the Coliseum, and both players managed to gain consistent yardage, totaling 36 carries for 263 yards, an average of 7.3 yards per rush.
Morgan started the scrimmage off as the first-string back in Marc Tyler's absence, but coach Lane Kiffin said afterward that if the Trojans played a game Monday, Baxter would probably have been given the start.
For his part, he looked like a completely different runner than last season, as he has each day in fall camp so far. Instead of the incessant juking and dancing in the backfield he did so often last year, Baxter has committed himself to making one-cut runs with regularity.
That's part of the reason he did so well Monday, he said. The other part involved him getting a chance to run it a few times in a row and not having to worry about being replaced.
"Last year, they would throw me in every once in a while and it was hard to get a rhythm going and everything," Baxter said after the scrimmage. "I like it when it's run after run. I like that, as you get in a rhythm and the O-line gets into a rhythm and we all kinda get on the same page.
"It just clicks."
On one series in the second quarter, Baxter had three straight runs of a dozen yards ore more. That drive ended in a fumble at the four-yard line, but it appeared to be more of a miscommunication than anything else. Morgan also fumbled once but got twice the carries Baxter did, rushing 24 times.
Asked afterward what he believes he does differently than Baxter, Amir Carlisle and other Trojan running backs competing to start in Tyler's absence, Morgan couldn't name one specific aspect. Rather, he focused on his desire to be looked at as a dependable back, not a speed-focused one.
"I think I have speed," Morgan said. "I want to show it more in outrunning the safeties, but I think I run pretty hard. I'm running pretty tough out there.
"I just want to prove I can be an every-down back."
Receiver Brice Butler made the offensive play of the day when he leaped high in the air to snare a throw from Kessler and ran into the end zone for a 35-yard score. In another nice play, freshman receiver George Farmer, who didn't play in the first half, caught a 30-yard pass from Jesse Scroggins over a defender in the red zone.
On defense, freshman linebacker Tre Madden scooped up the ball dropped in the faulty exchange between Baxter and Max Wittek near the goal line in the second quarter. Cornerback Anthony Brown had Wittek picked off twice but dropped both balls.
And, in special-teams play, kicker Andre Heidari converted both of the field goals he attempted, from 34 and 41 yards out. Scroggins also doubled as an arm punter and threw the ball a good 70 yards during a couple punt-return iterations.
Junior cornerback Brian Baucham (hamstring), sophomore tight end Christian Thomas (hip) and redshirt sophomore Torin Harris (concussion) again sat out of practice. Redshirt freshman Giovanni Di Poalo (shoulder) didn't participate in practice and walked the steps of the Coliseum on his own. Redshirt freshman tight end Xavier Grimble (neck) sat out for the first time.
Freshman defensive tackle J.R. Tavai (hamstring) returned to the field, as did senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou, who had been sidelined Sunday and part of Saturday with a flareup in his surgically repaired knee.
Safety Demetrius Wright, a sophomore, suffered a hip pointer in the second half of Monday's scrimmage, but Kiffin characterized it as not overly serious. Junior Jawanza Starling and senior Marshall Jones should pick up Wright's snaps in the immediate future.
The scrimmage lasted more than three hours and ran 122 plays, the longest yet of five practice sessions for the Trojans this camp. The offenses gained a total of 721 yards on the day . . . Quarterback Matt Barkley completed 10-of-20 passes for a touchdown and an interception. All of his statistics were posted in the first half, as the junior did not take any second-half snaps. Other statistical leaders included linebacker Hayes Pullard and Brown, who each had a team-high six tackles, and Carlisle, who ran the ball 10 times for 82 yards and a touchdown . . . USC sported white pants with double cardinal stripes down each side during the scrimmage, a new look the Trojans are not yet planning to use in games