USC football bowl practices began Friday morning as the Trojans gear up for a still unknown opponent at an unknown bowl location. Despite that, Steve Sarkisian’s squad hit the practice field with at least one interesting positional shift, as sophomore cornerback Chris Hawkins took reps at safety.
It is not clear where or when McQuay’s leg injury occurred but his absence on the field leaves USC with limited options at safety, which might explain the need to give Hawkins a look at that position.
Behind senior Gerald Bowman and freshman John Plattenburg, the Trojans’ next option is walk-on freshman Matt Lopes.
After practice, Sarkisian spoke about stoking the competitive fire of players like Hawkins who have seen their involvement dwindle for one reason or another. Hawkins started at cornerback in the first half of the season, but issues with penalties, the emergence of Adoree’ Jackson and the return of Josh Shaw have limited his time on the field.
Since are still awaiting news on their bowl destination, Sarkisian said the focus of practice in the coming six days will be a bit different.
“This is a unique time, we don’t know where we’re playing, we don’t even know the date of the game. So we’re just coming out and practicing football,” Sarkisian said. A focus on fundamentals, basic installation and renewed competition are the order of the day Sarkisian told reporters.
Redshirts, scout team players and back ups were given a greater bulk of reps in practice, Sarkisian said, as the lack of opponent or gameplan opened the door for developmental reps across the board.
A particular beneficiary of that, according to Sarkisian, was back up quarterback Max Browne.
The head coach told reporters that Browne was still taking too many sacks, but that the reps would help him get back up to game speed after spending most of the season in a scout team mode.
Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith, USC’s pair of outstanding true freshman went head-to-head in practice with a spirit of competition praised by Sarkisian.
Jackson, who wore a yellow non-contact jersey Friday as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered against Notre Dame, got the better of Smith in one-on-ones, Sarkisian said, but Smith came back with a touchdown on a fade in the back of the endzone.
Of course, Jackson had the last laugh, picking off a Cody Kessler pass and returning it for a touchdown.
“The more really elite, competitive players we can compile that can battle every single day, that’s how you improve, ultimately as an individual and then as a team,” Sarkisian said of his two young stars. “That’s what we’ve seen from those two guys.”
Sarkisian doesn’t know which bowl his team will be chosen for, but he was gratified that several big destinations have shown interest in the Trojans. Rumors have swirled throughout the week that the Holiday Bowl could come calling for USC for the first time, but Friday there was also talk of the Alamo Bowl jumping on the Trojans.
For Sarkisian, that means observers have noted that USC has played good football this season and that the Trojans are two tight losses away from being an even more attractive pick for bowls.
Here’s Sarkisian’s complete post-game presser via USC Athletics: