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USC Practice Report (10-4)

There was some bad news for the USC football team as they continue preparations for Oregon State when the word came from Clay Helton that senior RG Viane Talamaivao would require surgery for a torn pec muscle and will be out for the remainder of the season.

It’s definitely a blow for a Trojan offensive line that was forced to play without three starters last week as there hasn’t been a more dependable member of the line than Viane over the past three and a half seasons. You’re talking about a guy who started as a true freshman and has started 37 games overall in his career, so it’s never going to be easy to replace someone like that.

“Really no new injury news with the exception of one very sad story, and that’s Viane Talamaivao, who will require season-ending surgery on a pectoral tear,” Helton said. “Viane has been a rock to us for four years, very much a leader near and dear to all of our hearts, and has been a true Trojan, and we love him to death. An awesome, awesome gentleman, and an awesome student athlete. Usually the breaking point to apply for a fifth year of eligibility is after the fourth game, and we went four games and 22 plays, so it’s a sad story.”

It will be a true freshman stepping in for Viane with Andrew Vorhees taking the first team reps this week.

“Andrew (Vorhees) has been double training since training camp, and really a smart individual,” Helton said. “He picks up the playbook extremely well. He has the athleticism to play tackle and the physical size to be an interior guard, and has played extremely well since he’s been here every opportunity given.”

Viane isn’t the only regular OL starter who is out of action right now as Chuma Edoga continues to sit with an ankle sprain, and Helton saying Chuma is doubtful to play this week. We’ve seen true freshman Austin Jackson and redshirt sophomore Clayton Johnston splitting the first team reps at right tackle so far, while the rest of the offense line (Toa Lobendahn at LT, Chris Brown at LG and Nico Falah at center) remained the same today. Lobendahn has been able to practice this week after missing the Washington State game with a skin infection.

“Chuma is out for right now,” Helton said. “Obviously, he hasn’t practiced. We’ll see where he is tomorrow, but you know, a high-ankle sprain, especially on a big kid, it will be hard. We’ll see where it is today and tomorrow, but just planning ahead – we have to plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Another player who returned from injury this week and got more work today than yesterday was Steven Mitchell. And today was one of the better practices we’ve seen from several receivers. Tyler Vaughns was the biggest producer, including a deep over the shoulder catch from Sam Darnold, but I also liked what we saw from guys like Michael Pittman and Josh Imatorbhebhe, in addition to the usual from Deontay Burnett. And there was also a nice deep Darnold completion down the middle to Josh Falo.

“Michael Pittman is getting close to 100,” Helton said. “He’s not quite there, but I’ll tell you what, he made a huge leap forward these last two practices. I even told him today, gave him a big hug, because he’s really sticking his foot in the ground now, and you can see his confidence and his explosiveness coming back, and we need it – to have that big of a body, 215 to 220 pounds, with that type of explosiveness and range to catch the deep ball, we’re looking forward to getting him back.”

One player on defense who continues to be held out is Marlon Tuipulotu as he deals with a back issue, and today it was Brandon Pili getting a lot of reps with Josh Fatu, Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton all dealing with injuries of their own.

“Marlon, right now, is going through a back injury that we’re trying to get him back for. We’re going to see how it progresses over the next week and then make a decision where to go to from there,” Helton said.

Jamel Cook was absent from practice again, the word earlier in the week was that he is dealing with bronchitis, no further update today from Helton.

The practice ended with a fired up 11-on-11 team period that included multiple carries from Reuben Peters, a Matt Fink completion to Pie Young, a good pressure by Levi Jones on Jack Sears, a Sears deep completion to Jackson Boyer (which brought a lot of cheers), and a dash down the left sideline by Josh Imatorbhebhe that showed some impressive speed. Among the young linemen who were in were Jay Tufele, Jacob Lichtenstein, Brett Neilon and Jalen McKenzie.

Helton quotes

Is Uchenna playing linebacker as well as you’ve seen since you’ve been here?

“I’ll tell you, I’m really, really proud of him, because if you’ll remember last year was his first year at the position. He had been a stack player. He had been a MIKE and a dime ‘backer. And now all of a sudden you watch him, and you see him up on the line, I think he’s really shown himself, not only helping our team, but even for the next level. He’s shown himself as an outside linebacker, a stack linebacker, a kid that can rush off the edge like a Von Miller, a special teams player, he’s just a complete football player and a great leader. That’s why he’s our team captain. He leads not only by example, but how he handles himself on a day-to-day basis.”

When the defense forces a turnover what sort of energy are you trying to channel to the offense?

“Remember I’m an offensive guy, so I’m always hard on the offense. When you get a turnover on the plus side of the field, there’s no reason not to score a touchdown. That’s got to be your mindset – we’re not walking off this field without a touchdown. Field goals are unacceptable. And that’s why we’re so displeased as an entire staff and as an offense. To be able to get the ball, last week, on the three-yard-line, and not put it in – credit to Washington State – but our mindset is, a turnover on the plus side must be six points.”

Following the collision between Jalen Greene and Jordan Iosefa before the WSU game, is anything going to be different in terms of how the pre-game drills are set up going forward?

“Usually as you see us in pre-game, we have areas that we work our individuals in, and those areas are supposed to remain the same beforehand. Sometimes guys get out of that area. I’ve never seen it in 23 years. I know the kids are sick about it because it happened. But that’s why you make those areas, so it doesn’t happen. It was a bad deal. We’ve had some bad luck lately. When that happened I was like, ‘OK, that’s about as much as I can take.’”

Viane Talamaivao blocking for Stephen Carr

Garry Paskwietz
Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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