By Johnny Curren
Dressed in shorts and helmets, the Trojans took part in a lighter-than-usual workout with an emphasis on red zone game-planning on Tuesday morning, as the team continues preparations for their Dec. 30 matchup with Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl.
One thing that has stood out through the first four days of the bowl game workouts is just how relaxed and tight-knit the team has appeared to be, but as USC senior quarterback Cody Kessler noted, they’re also focused on the task at hand.
“These last three or four practices have been awesome,” Kessler said. “You know, it’s the holidays, and everyone is hanging out. We’re with these guys all day, and it’s been fun. Today we’re going to a team event, a bowling alley and hanging out with everybody. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had a lot of fun with these guys, but at the same time the practices have been great. You know, really crisp. Not long practices – they haven’t dragged out, but very straight to the point and getting a lot of stuff done.”
Kessler and Vainuku accept Senior Bowl invites
Following practice it was revealed that Kessler and fullback Soma Vainuku have both accepted invitations to play in The Reese’s Senior Bowl, set to be held on Jan. 30 in Mobile Alabama.
Kessler, who has thrown for 3,315 yards and 28 touchdowns with six interceptions this season, is looking forward to the chance to compete against some of the nation’s top players, including quarterbacks like Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, as well as North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett, Louisiana Tech’s Jeff Driscoll, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
“It’s good to go in that atmosphere with the other top quarterbacks and be able to sling it around a little bit,” Kessler said. “And then you get to throw to some of the top receivers also, so it’ll be fun. It’s exciting, and it’s a cool event, but at the same time it’s obviously a very important step for the next level, so I want to go down there and compete against the top guys and play as hard as I can.”
Vainuku, a fifth-year senior out of Eureka (Calif.), has been known as one of the hardest working players on the team, as well as a special teams standout, throughout his time on campus – something USC head coach Clay Helton spoke on following practice.
“I think one of the biggest things that I’ve seen, and I think our team sees is the unselfishness of a guy knowing his role, and perfecting his role,” Helton said. “When you look at being one of those guys that’s always being a special teams captain, that’s always being one of the Pac-12 special teams players of the year, he’s just a special person, and then makes the most of his opportunities, offensively. And it goes to show you, when you put the team first, and put the team goals first, then individual success can happen too. And now going to the Senior Bowl, it speaks volumes to the rest of our team that you don’t always have to be the superstar name. You can be the guy that does his job, and still play this game for a long time.”
USC defensive linemen Greg Townsend Jr. and Antwaun Woods have accepted bids to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, which takes place on Jan. 23 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
News and notes
– With more rain having hit Los Angeles overnight, the Trojans practiced on the turf of Cromwell Field for the third consecutive day.
– Helton said that he had no update on the status of left tackle Chad Wheeler, or regarding whether or not he might be available to play against Wisconsin. Wheeler was involved in an altercation on Saturday that led to him being held for evaluation, and he has not participated in any of the bowl game practices.
“We’re still playing it out and just seeing where he’s at, but really, at this point in time, I really can’t comment on the situation,” Helton said on Tuesday. “We’re just wishing him the best.”
– Zach Banner continued to line up with the No. 1 offense at Wheeler’s normal left tackle spot, with Chuma Edoga going at right tackle.
– Khaliel Rodgers participated in the entire practice session. He and Nico Falah split reps with the No. 1 offense at center.
– Among those who did not participate in practice were cornerback Kevon Seymour (ankle), safety Matt Lopes (foot), linebacker John Houston Jr. (back) and safety Ykili Ross.
– Adoree’ Jackson spent time at cornerback as well as at wide receiver on Tuesday.
– Delvon Simmons was the last player to leave Cromwell Field on Tuesday after spending extra time working with defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo.
– While there was plenty of scout team work, it closely resembled a walk-through for much of the day. And with no live 11-on-11 or 7-on-7 periods to draw from, there will be no highlight section in today’s practice report.