The USC football team started their preparations for facing the Wisconsin Badgers in the Holiday Bowl on Saturday, as the Trojans practiced at Howard Jones Field for the first time in more than two weeks.
The downtime was by design. Despite being allotted up to 15 practices for bowl game preparations, the Trojans are taking just a fraction of that, with five sessions on campus before traveling down to San Diego for a couple more.
Helton told the media it was due to the physical toll of the season, and additional time spent preparing for the Pac-12 Championship game, which added a week of practice.
Since then however, it’s been rather quiet on campus.
“I’ve been bored to death,” Clay Helton said of the time off. “To be back out here on the field, and to be with the guys, and to see them getting fresh and healthy and see them bounce around is a lot of fun,” Helton said.
Sep 26, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans wide receiver Isaac Whitney (15) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
That freshness is perhaps the most seen in the inclusions of junior wide receiver Isaac Whitney off of a broken clavicle, and sophomore center Khaliel Rodgers, who has been dealing with both a high ankle sprain and a shoulder issue. Both should be ready to go for USC on December 30th in the Holiday Bowl.
In five games before his injury, Whitney caught eight passes for 112 yards with a pair of touchdowns. His impact was pretty significant towards the end of the Sarkisian era in 2015, as he developed into a prominent blocker on the perimeter for the Trojans’ wide array of screens and extended hand offs.
With Rodgers, his presence is key as USC had to resort to playing fourth-string center Nico Falah against UCLA and Stanford. Both Falah and Viane Talamaivao worked on taking snaps after practice on Saturday, just in case Rodgers can’t go or suffers a setback.
Tre Madden has knee surgery
Veteran third down and short yardage back Tre Madden was nowhere to be seen at practice, and with good reason. The senior had a successful arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Monday according to Helton.
“He’s had a sore knee that’s finally caught up with us,” Helton said. “He has a bright future at the next level and it’s to the point now where it’s just not healing up and we wanted to get it healthy.”
Madden will miss the Holiday Bowl, which means he finishes his USC career having missed 20 games in the last three seasons, while rushing for a total of 1,155 yards.
His big start to the 2013 season will be his biggest claim to fame. Madden became the first Trojan since Marcus Allen in 1981 to rush for 100 yards or better in the first three games of the season.
Staff changes aplenty for bowl prep
Helton confirmed the structure of the coaching staff, after the firings of four assistants two weeks ago. Former All-American defensive end Kenechi Udeze and ex-UCLA assistant Mike Tuiasosopo are serving as joint defensive line coaches. Ricky Brown is set to help with linebackers, Drew Pearson with cornerbacks and Patrick Henderson with safeties.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’ll be much of the same, as all but Bob Connelly was retained following the regular season. The only major change? The bump up of Mike Goff, who began the season as a graduate assistant.
Sep 26, 2015; Tempe, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans offensive assistant coach Mike Goff reacts against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Goff takes over on the offensive line, a position group he knows quite well. He was an Iowa grad who spent 12 years in the NFL and earned All-Pro honors in 2005.
“Coach Goff has taken under us his wing and we’re all in for him,” Talamaivao said.
It’ll be worth keeping an eye on the line as a whole, as the Trojans have had five offensive line coaches in three years if you include Goff: James Cregg and Mike Summers in 2013, Tim Drevno in 2014 and Bob Connelly this year.
Helton also elaborated on the promotion of Tee Martin to offensive coordinator, saying that he believes Martin is the next big thing in college football.
Despite the promotion, Helton will call offensive plays in the Holiday Bowl in an effort to keep continuity from the regular season.
Banner gets first team reps at left tackle
In addition to loss of Madden and the inclusion of Whitney, the biggest note in practice was that junior offensive lineman Zach Banner was getting first team reps at left tackle.
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Banner has spent all but one game at right tackle, starting 11 of 13 games there this season in his second year as a regular. Against Utah, he started at left tackle when Chad Wheeler went down with an injury.
Wheeler, a three-year starter at left tackle for the Trojans, was not in attendance at Howard Jones Field on Saturday morning.
“Chad is going through a personal issue today that we’re dealing with,” Helton said. “I’m going to leave it at that right now [as] we’re sorting through it.”
For now, it’ll be something worth watching, though Helton stressed to the media that he hoped for respect in regards to the privacy of the personal matter.