By Johnny Curren
It was another shorts-and-shoulder pads practice for the Trojans on Wednesday, and with a pivotal crosstown clash coming up on Saturday with the UCLA Bruins, led by freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, USC interim head coach Clay Helton was pleased with what he saw from his team.
“What a great practice – an intense practice,” Helton said. “These kids have blown me away. It’s Week 12 and they’re out here and just absolutely fighting their butts off. I’m really, really proud of them. We really concentrated on some pass-rush, which I think is going to be a huge emphasis in this ball game – trying to get to a really good quarterback and trying to get him off his spot a little bit. So we really, really made a huge effort towards that today, and worked on a lot of our third-down preparation, both offensively and defensively.”
Rodgers fighting through the pain
Since taking over for Max Tuerk (knee) and Toa Lobendahn (knee) as the team’s starting center, third-year sophomore Khaliel Rodgers has performed solidly, but dealing with a sublexation in both shoulders, he’s had to do so through quite a bit of pain.
Perhaps in an effort to rest Rodgers, as well as for insurance purposes, Nico Falah took extensive reps with the No. 1 offense at center for the second consecutive day.
“I can’t commend the kid enough,” Helton said of Rodgers. “To sublex both shoulders, not one but two, and he’s still fighting through it and still it pops out, pops back in, and he keeps on going – it just amazes me. For a guy that’s still learning the position. He’s really been one of the MVPs for our team – to allow us to function down the stretch.”
The USC offensive line, and Rodgers in particular, figure to have a formidable challenge on their hands this week in the form of UCLA junior defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who currently ranks No. 3 on the Bruins in tackles (57), and No. 2 in tackles-for-loss (9) and sacks (5).
“He’s one of those guys you really have o game-plan for,” Helton said. “You look in the league and there’s some special guys out there that you go, ‘OK, we’re going to have to do something to stop this young man.’ He’s one of those guys. He’s going to be a Sunday player. We know he’s there. We’ve got a huge challenge. It’s going to take all of us and every scheme we’ve got to be able to contain him.”
More on injuries
– Offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao (torn meniscus) and safety Marvell Tell (clavicle) both participated in the entire practice session for the second consecutive day. Talamaivao, once again, spent the day with the No. 1 offense at right guard.
– Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle/hand) again participated in the entire practice.
– Tailback Tre Madden (knee) had a light day of work.
– Linebacker Osa Masina (hamstring) and safety Leon McQuay III (knee) were dressed out, but neither participated in practice. Helton said that if he had to bet, neither will be available to play against UCLA.
– Linebackers Quinton Powell and John Houston (back) also did not participate in practice. Safety Matt Lopes (foot) watched from the sideline with a boot on his foot.
– Alex Wood (concussion) got light work in, but Helton is preparing for Matt Boermeester to handle placekicking and kickoff duties against UCLA in case he can’t go.
“It takes a little time when you have those concussions,” Helton said. “We’ll see where he is. He’s still going through it – still some tests that he’s got to do. We feel confident in Matt if we have to go that route.”
News and notes
– Freshman tailback Dominic Davis had a strong practice, and he came up with the arguable play of the day, hauling in a 25-yard touchdown along the sideline with Scott Felix in tight coverage, on a pass thrown by Max Browne.
– Adoree’ Jackson blocked a Boermeester field goal attempt during special teams drills. Jackson saw time on offense and defense on Wednesday.
– Don Hill spent some time with the No. 1 defense at rush end during a couple 11-on-11 periods
– Among those in attendance was former USC wide receiver great Mike Williams, as well as Class of 2016 Trojans safety commit C.J. Pollard (Gardena, Calif./Serra), and for the second consecutive day, Class of 2016 wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (Suwanee, Ga./North Gwinnett), who has already signed a financial-aid agreement with USC.
– Cody Kessler hit Steven Mitchell Jr. over the middle for a gain of close to 10 yards.
– Hill pressured Kessler, who threw the pass away.
– Anthony Sarao tackled Ronald Jones II for a loss.
– Aca’Cedric Ware ran for a gain of around 4 yards before Michael Hutchings put a good pop on him.
– Ware ran up the middle for a gain of six yards before Porter Gustin made the stop.
– Max Browne hit Jalen Green outside for a gain of 10 yards before Hutchings made the stop.
– Browne hit Greene outside for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Kessler threw outside to Mitchell, but Jackson limited the play to a short gain.
– Greg Townsend Jr. sacked Kessler.
– Kessler hit Mitchell outside for a gain of 11 or 12 yards with Jonathan Lockett in coverage.
– Browne connected with Deontay Burnett outside for a gain of 10 yards.
– Browne hit Burnett along the sideline for a gain of over 20 yards.
– Gustin pressured Browne, who threw the pass away.
– Kessler hit Tyler Petite outside for a gain of close to 20 yards.
– Kessler hit D. Davis outside for a gain of 25 yards.
– Claude Pelon sacked Browne.
– Su’a Cravens stopped James Toland IV for a loss.
– Kessler hit Mitchell outside for a gain of close to 25 yards.
– Taylor McNamara made a diving 10-yard catch over the middle on a pass from Kessler.