By Johnny Curren
The Trojans began preparations for Oregon on Tuesday with a two-hour, shorts, shoulder pads and helmets practice session on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.
The Ducks currently sport a less-than-impressive 3-5 record, but with the team defeating Arizona State this past weekend by a final score of 54-35, and with the offense having come alive thanks to a new starting quarterback in Justin Herbert, USC head coach Clay Helton said that the Trojans are certainly not taking their Pac-12 foe lightly this week.
“When I look at them, and we look at the tape, you’re talking about a team that lost by three points to Nebraska, three points to Colorado and three points in double overtime to Cal,” Helton said. “This team could easily be 6-2. If you don’t bring your A game, you’re going to get beat.”
Aca’Cedric Ware suffers ankle injury
With Justin Davis having already missed the Trojans’ last two games due to a high ankle sprain, the USC running back corps suffered another potential blow on Tuesday when Aca’Cedric Ware, who was battling a knee sprain, tweaked his left ankle midway through practice, and he was ultimately carted off the field.
No further update was provided on the extent of the injury, with Helton noting that they will have to wait and see how Ware progresses through the rest of the week. With his history, however, the Trojans head coach certainly isn’t ruling Ware out just yet.
“You know, Ced is a really tough kid,” Helton said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he pops up, and on Thursday he’s ready to go.”
Davis suited up on Tuesday for the first time since suffering his injury, and he worked with a trainer off to the side of the field. Helton said that the senior rusher was able to run at full speed, but he did not cut or change direction, and his status for Saturday is still very uncertain.
If both Ware and Davis are unable to play against Oregon, Helton said that Dominic Davis will serve as the backup to Ronald Jones II, who rushed for a career-high 223 yards last Thursday against Cal. James Toland IV would be No. 3 on the depth chart.
USC grants Max Browne permission to transfer
Also on Tuesday, USC signed the necessary paperwork to allow Trojans backup quarterback Max Browne to transfer at the end of the fall semester. Helton revealed that no restrictions were placed in the agreement, meaning Browne can transfer anywhere, including to other Pac-12 programs.
“He asked for permission to talk to everyone, and we granted him permission to talk to everyone,” Helton said. “I think that’s only respectful to him. You want the best opportunity for yourself, and you don’t know where that would be. And out of respect for the type of guy that he is, and how he’s handled things around here, personally, I think he deserves it.”
Browne, who was replaced as the Trojans’ starting quarterback following the third game of the season, continued to practice with the team on Tuesday. He is a graduate student who will be eligible to play immediately at whichever school he chooses to transfer to.
News and notes
– Cornerback Jonathan Lockett did not practice after suffering a hip injury last Thursday. Helton called the injury “significant,” and he said that he does not think that he will be available to play against Oregon. Lockett had emerged as the starting nickel back over the past few weeks. In his absence on Tuesday, Leon McQuay III lined up at the position when the defense went into its nickel alignment, with Chris Hawkins and Marvell Tell manning the two safety spots. Helton said that Ajene Harris is also an option there.
– Both Uchenna Nwosu (knee sprain) and Olajuwon Tucker (hamstring) made it through the entire practice session despite suffering injuries against Cal.
– Helton said that Adoree’ Jackson, Christian Rector and McQuay were all battling illness on Tuesday, but all three players took part in the entirety of practice.
– Chuma Edoga, who did not play against Cal due to a violation of team rules, was back at practice on Tuesday. He took periodic reps with the No. 1 offense at both tackle spots.
– Jordan Simmons also saw some brief time with the No. 1 offense – at right guard and right tackle. Chris Brown took a few reps with the first team offense at left guard.
– Having missed most of the season so far to focus on academics and personal issues, defensive tackle Noah Jefferson appears to be on track to potentially return to the practice field with the team next week.
“He’s did strength and conditioning with us last week,” Helton said. “He’ll continue to do it this week. He’s catching up in school. We’ll see where he is at the end of the week, and hopefully get him back. He and I talked Monday and said if we make it through this week and everything is good, we’ll try to get him back out here and get him in some individual drills, so I’m hoping for that next week.”
– Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a very solid day, particularly during a late service team period where he hauled in a number of deep passes from Darnold, including one where he made a beautiful leaping grab over Keyshawn ‘Pie’ Young.
– Freshman receiver Tyler Vaughns also came up with a highlight-reel diving catch past Yoofi Quansah in the same period.
– Another freshman wide out, Velus Jones, showed off his wheels in the final 11-on-11 period of the day, taking a quick pass outside from Browne before cutting back across the middle and sprinting past Chris Hakwins and Co. for a 35-yard touchdown.
– Iman Marshall blocked a Matt Boermeester field goal attempt during a special teams period.
– Former Trojans players Norm Katnik, Darrell Rideaux and Eric Torres were among those in attendance, as was USC president Max Nikias.
– Also on hand were NFL scouts from the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders.
– Nwosu stopped R. Jones for no gain.
– Jack Jones stopped Ware after a short gain.
– Browne hit Jalen Greene outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Browne hit De’Quan Hampton outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Deontay Burnett outside for a gain of 20 yards.
– Jones weaved his way for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– D. Davis ran outside for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Connor Murphy stopped D. Davis for no gain.
– Tell stopped Vavae Malepeai after a short gain.
– Browne hit Cary Angeline over the middle for a gain of 15 yards.
– Malepeai ran inside for a gain of 5 or 6 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Gustin stopped Malepeai for no gain.
– Browne hit Vaughns outside for a gain of 7 or 8 yards.
– Nwosu stopped Malepeai for a loss.
– Browne hit Josh Imatorbhebhe outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Darnold tried to hit Hampton in the corner of the end zone, but Harris jumped high and broke up the pass.
– Darnold hit R. Jones outside for a gain of around 10 yards.
– Darnold hit Smith-Schuster outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne hit V. Jones with a quick pass outside, and then Jones cut inside and broke loose for a 35-yard TD.
– Browne hit Angeline over the middle for a 35-yard TD.