With the Trojans’ annual rivalry matchup with Notre Dame now just three days away, Clay Helton’s squad was back on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Wednesday, and once again, there were some notable names out of action, particularly along the defensive line.
The big news coming out of the session was that nose tackle Josh Fatu is likely out for Saturday’s game against the Irish due to concussion protocol stemming from a car accident that he was involved in. Helton said that they are hopeful that he will return in time for next weekend’s game against Arizona State. In addition to Fatu, starting defensive tackle Rasheem Green (ankle) also was sidelined on Wednesday, although Helton noted that step was taken as a preventative measure, and that he is expected to participate in practice on Thursday.
With both Fatu and Green out, Liam Jimmons, Brandon Pili, Malik Dorton and Jay Tufele all rotated in with the No. 1 unit. Jimmons saw time at both nose and tackle, Pili lined up only at nose, and Tufele and Dorton took reps solely at tackle.
“The good thing we have is a lot of guys who have double-trained,” Helton said of the situation along the defensive line. “Liam Jimmons can play nose, or the 3. Christian Rector can play end or the 3-technique. Malik Dorton has played nose and 3 before, so we’ve got guys who can rotate and hit some spots.”
Along the offensive line, right tackle Chuma Edoga (ankle) took part in the entire practice session for the second consecutive day, but Toa Lobendahn (pectoral), once again, was dressed but did not participate, with Austin Jackson filling in at his normal left tackle spot.
Others who were sidelined included Stephen Carr (foot), Porter Gustin (biceps/toe) and Isaiah Langley (illness). Helton said that Carr is doubtful for this weekend, and that Gustin is “just not right yet” after the results of his recent CAT Scan and MRI came in.
MIKE linebacker Cameron Smith had a very light day of work, but Helton said that move was made just to give him some added rest. Jordan Iosefa took the bulk of the reps in his place.
As far as highlights from the two-hour, shorts -shoulder pads-and-helmets session, Deontay Burnett came up with the play-of-the-day during an early 11-on-11 period when he made a beautiful diving one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone to complete a 35-yard scoring play on a pass from Sam Darnold.
Darnold also hit Velus Jones down the seam for a 35-yard touchdown in that same period. Jack Jones came up with an interception on a pass over the middle from Matt Fink to Keyshawn “Pie” Young.
In the 7-on-7 period it was the other Trojans starting cornerback, Iman Marshall, who made a highlight-reel play when he jumped all over a Darnold pass outside to Trevon Sidney, stepping in front and picking it off. Darnold would finish the period on a high note, hitting Steven Mitchell Jr. for a 40-yard touchdown down the seam.
In the final 11-on-11 period of the day Bubba Bolden made some noise when he put a big hit on Daniel Imatorbhebhe after the tight end caught a pass over the middle, but the redshirt-sophomore did hold onto the ball.
Darnold finished Wednesday’s session off with long touchdown passes to Tyler Vaughns and Mitchell.
For the second straight day Irish music and the Notre Dame fight song was played throughout the 11-on-11 periods.
Among those in attendance was USC president Max Nikias, as well as former Trojans player Shaun Cody.
Bigelow talks move to role as coach
One day after Helton made the surprise announcement that defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow had decided to step away from football as a player, and that he would instead take on a role as a coach and mentor with the Trojans for the remainder of the season, the fifth-year senior discussed what went into his decision.
“Some personal things were going on, and I had to really sit down and talk to my family about some things, and my future really, and as a collective we sat down and we decided that this would be the best decision for Kenny Bigelow going forward,” said Bigelow, who has undergone two knee surgeries in his career at USC. “This is something I really gave a lot of thought to. I’ve always had aspirations of becoming a coach. Sometimes situations force you to move forward when you weren’t ready to, but I’ve grasped onto it, and it this is something I’m genuinely looking forward to.”
With the depth along the defensive line somewhat of an issue currently, Bigelow was asked if there was any chance that he might make a return to the field this season, and he made it clear that such a scenario is not in the cards.
“I’m at peace with the decision that I’ve made, and I’m going to stand by it,” Bigelow said. “I’m going to take this opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it.”
At what point in time do you start to make plans for what kind of role Rector plays when Gustin comes back?
“The good thing is, as we mentioned, is that Christian is a guy who has double-trained. Obviously when Porter comes back the first game he may not be able to go 80 plays, so I think the ability of those two guys to fill in will be helpful for our team.”
What goes into the decision about whether or not to actually play Tufele in a game?
“I think it would have to be a couple injuries, if it’s a situation where we have a ding or two, and we’ve still got 5 regular season games, a possible Pac-12 Championship, and who knows after that, you’ve got possibly 6-8 games left. To win a Pac-12 Championship you may need every soldier you’ve got around you, and Jay’s a pretty damn good one who has really grown over this half of a season, we would not move him if we didn’t think he could help us.”
What have you seen from Pili?
“I thought he played excellently at Utah, he really stepped up big time for us. He holds the point of attack, I think that’s one of the things you see. When you have a big man holding that gap where there’s two offensive linemen, taking a double team, who ends up getting a lot of tackles? Cam Smith. You’re looking at 16 tackles, and that means the nose tackle is doing his job. You always want to be strong up the middle, nose, Mike, free safety, and we are.”