By Johnny Curren
The Trojans were back on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Wednesday, and with a tough Oregon team coming up that ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in multiple offensive categories, including scoring (41.8) and total yards per game (532.6), USC interim head coach Clay Helton said that there were three primary points of emphasis in the two-hour session.
“The first one, our ball security stations and our turnover stations – trying to get the ball out and trying to steal a possession,” Helton said. “And also, you cannot give an extra possession to a dangerous Oregon offense. The second phase we worked on, which I think isreally important in this game, is out third-downs. We put a lot of emphasis on third-down efficiency, both offensively and defensively today. The last is our pass rush, and it’s a continued point of emphasis, something that we’ve committed to for the last five weeks. The kids have gotten better – 19 sacks in five weeks. We hope that continues.”
One likely key to the production of the defense on Saturday will be the play of the USC inside linebacker corps, which lost starting ‘mike’ linebacker Cameron Smith (knee) as well as backup Lamar Dawson (shoulder) for the season last weekend.
With the search on to find a replacement to start alongside Anthony Sarao, a mix of candidates that included Olajuwon Tucker, Uchenna Nwosu, Osa Masina and Michael Hutchings continued to bounce in and out of the lineup. A likely starter or more permanent rotation won’t be determined until later in the week.
Following practice, Sarao, normally the starting ‘will’ linebacker, said that he will also see time at ‘mike’ linebacker in the game.
Talamaivao’s status still up in the air
Having suffered a torn meniscus in his knee against Colorado, Viane Talamaivao did not participate in practice for the second consecutive day, with redshirt-freshman Chris Brown continuing to take reps in his place with the No. 1 offense at right guard.
According to Helton, the possibility still exists that Talamaivao could conceivably play against Oregon this Saturday.
“[It’s] just going to be a pain tolerance issue,” Helton said. “He is still extremely sore, so we’re working the Chris Brown alternative – he is doing a tremendous job right now. And then we’ll just feel it out towards the end of the week. He’s got plenty of reps. You’re in Week 11, so it’s not a bunch of new plays. He knows the game-plan inside and out. He’s getting mental reps.”
According to Helton, Talamaivao actually suffered the meniscus tear just four plays into the game against the Buffaloes.
“He played the entire game with it,” Helton said. “He’s an unbelievably tough kid.”
And Talamaivao isn’t the only one who played through injury. Helton also revealed that Smith stayed in the game for 18 plays after tearing his ACL, and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster battled through another contest despite having undergone surgery on a broken bone in his hand less than two weeks earlier.
“There’s a lot of tough kids on this team, and that’s why I’m so proud of them,” Helton said. “Most individuals say, ‘I’m hurt. I’m out.’ And these guys are fighting every inch. They’re trying to do something really special, not only for the team, but for the Trojan Family, and I can’t say enough about them.”
News and notes
– Tailback Tre Madden (knee) did not participate in practice. Helton said that he is hopeful to make it back in time for the UCLA game, but that he will travel to Oregon in any case.
– Helton revealed that safety Leon McQuay III suffered a torn PCL in his knee. The injury will not require surgery, and like Madden, he will travel to Oregon, but is more likely to be back in time for UCLA.
– Others who did not practice include linebacker John Houston Jr. (back) and safety Matt Lopes (foot).
– Adoree’ Jackson saw time at both cornerback and wide receiver. He had an outstanding day on defense, making at least three pass break-ups.
– Safety Chris Hawkins came up with a pick-six on a quick pass outside by Cody Kessler.
– Freshman safety Ykili Ross made an impressive, diving interception on a pass that was tipped by Darreus Rogers.
– Freshman wide receiver Deontay Burnett had a solid day, making a number of catches all over the field.
– Freshman tight end Caleb Wilson capped practice off by hauling in a 25-yard touchdown from Sam Darnold and dunking it through the goal post.
– Defensive tackle Delvon Simmons blocked a field goal attempt during a special teams period.
– Su’a Cravens spent some time after practice working with former Trojans defensive line great and current strength and conditioning coach Kenechi Udeze.
– Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall also stayed after practice to get more work in. He was the last player to leave the field.
– With the Trojans set to play on the road in front of what is expected to be a loud Oregon crowd in Autzen Stadium, crowd noise was piped in at times during practice.
– Among those in attendance were scouts from the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos.
– Simmons tackled Aca’Cedric Ware for a loss.
– Tucker stopped Ware for no gain.
– Kessler hit Rogers outside for a gain of 10 yards before Marshall made the stop.
– Kessler hit Tyler Petite outside for a gain of 13 or 14 yards.
– Kessler hit Burnett deep along the sideline for a 40-yard TD.
– Dominic Davis ran for a gain of 5 yards before Nwosu made the stop.
– Max Browne hit George Katrib over the middle for a gain of 10 yards,
– Browne hit Steven Mitchell Jr. over the middle for a gain of almost 10 yards.
– Browne hit D. Davis outside and he picked up close to 20 yards.
– Kessler went deep to Rogers, but Marshall broke up the pass.
– Kessler tried to hit De’Quan Hampton outside, but Jackson broke up the pass.
– Browne hit Robby Kolanz outside for a gain of around 15 yards.
– Browne connected with Kolanz again for a gain of 10 yards.
– Noah Jefferson and Co. stopped D. Davis for no gain.
– Kessler tried to hit Taylor McNamara over the middle, but Su’a Cravens broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Jalen Greene outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit Smith-Schuster outside, but Jackson broke up the pass.
– Kessler hit Mitchell over the middle for 11 or 12 yards.
– Kessler tried to hit Smith-Schuster outside, but Jackson broke up the pass again.
– Kessler hit Rogers outside for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Browne tried to hit Hampton over the middle, but Kevin Seymour deflected the pass.
– Burnett made a leaping catch over Lockett for a gain of 40 yards on a pass from Browne.
– Browne hit Jackson outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Ware ran outside for a gain of 8 or 9 yards.
– Kessler hit Burnett down the seam for a 25-yard TD.
– Kessler hit Greene over the middle for a gain of 20 yards.
– Kessler hit Smith-Schuster over the middle for a gain of 13 or 14 yards.