It’ll take the right test results and some fortunate timing, but USC is on track to return to practice on Tuesday and to host this weekend’s game against Washington State.
USC head coach Clay Helton said Tuesday morning that the Trojans returned no positive Covid tests among players on Monday, and USC plans to hit the field for the first time in a while on Tuesday, pending the outcome of those tests.
“With yesterday’s test results being all negative, player-wise, and through the guidance of our medical professionals, we are going to begin the opportunity to begin workouts today,” Helton said.
Helton said Tuesday’s practice will mirror a typical Monday session, stressing strength and conditioning with some light field work. That’s probably a good thing for the players, as they look to get back into football shape following an unexpected pause in the middle of a season. If the Tuesday and Wednesday tests return negative, the Trojans will move to a full-pads practice on Wednesday.
“We have been off seven of the last nine days, with seven days of no physical contact — no on-field engagement and drill work,” Helton said.
USC currently has four players sidelined due to positive Covid tests, and seven additional players in quarantine. That will make for a practice week that Helton called a “logistical challenge.” He said there might not be enough bodies to conduct full service teams as they normally would or to have the same type of physical contact periods.
But ultimately, provided everything continues to track in the right direction and USC isn’t hit by more positive tests throughout the week, the Trojans are on track to get enough players back by Sunday’s game time to hit the required numbers at specific positions to be able to play the game.
“By moving the game Friday to Sunday, it allows us to garner the adequate number of players that we need at a certain position to be able to play this game,” Helton said, adding that he’s thankful to the conference as well as both universities for making that adjustment happen.
Helton said he wouldn’t be able to give a definite number of players eligible to return to action for the game, but said it’s an “adequate enough number to be able to play ball.”
It was reported by Jon Wilner of the Mercury News that USC’s offensive line was the position that dipped below the minimum number of available players and forced the Trojans to cancel the game against Colorado this past weekend. The Pac-12 set minimum numbers of seven offensive linemen, one quarterback, four defensive linemen and 53 total scholarship players in order for a team to participate in a game.
Helton said that while they expect to get a few of the veteran players back later this week, quarantine and positive tests open up an opportunity for young players and backups to get extensive reps over the coming days.
“I was really excited to see some of these young kids get the chance to really make a major contribution,” Helton said of facing the same situation prior to the Colorado game. “We’ll be prepping some young kids during the week. Our anticipation is we won’t get some of the veteran players back until later this week, so they’re going to get the reps and based on how they’re handling things and where we’re at at the end of the week, you can anticipate a young kid or two having to be in there. What an exciting time for them. That’s why you come to SC is to have the opportunity to compete and play early.”
Helton also implied that even if the players available to return to return, there’s still a chance it won’t cover all the starting — or maybe key backup — positions.
“There are probably going to be some young people in there Sunday, Helton said. “It’s exciting. I can’t wait to watch them play. We’ll get these young people ready to play if called upon.”
With those players in quarantine forced to miss the next handful of practices, Helton said they’ve worked on a plan to be able to keep them in shape and conditioning separate from the team.
“We’ve worked with our medical professionals on a plan that allows our guys to stay in shape and stay in condition,” Helton said, adding that they’ve put that plan into practice already.
Washington State has been dealing with Covid issues on its side as well. The Cougars have had to cancel their past two games and, like USC, is scheduled to get a number of players out of quarantine this week in order to be able to play this weekend.
In a season where games can be canceled at any time and getting every game on the national schedule played every weekend has been impossible, there is still a long ways to go between now and Sunday’s 4:30 kickoff. But after Monday’s results, USC is now on track to play its fourth game of the season.
“We feel like we’re going to be in a good spot come Sunday,” Helton said.