USC vs ASU Practice Notes: Young Defenders Must Be Ready vs Uptempo (9/28)

USC defensive end Connor Murphy during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC defensive end Connor Murphy during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

Wednesday’s practice in preparation for USC vs ASU at Howard Jones Field turned the attention towards subsitutions and the importance of young players.

USC’s overall depth is better than it’s been in years, but the Trojans still face major concerns defensively when it comes to bodies available.

In fact, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said on Wednesday that the depth doesn’t feel any different than it did during his last stint at USC in 2013.

In response, head coach Clay Helton noted a solid two-deep at defensive back and linebacker which feels like an improvement over 2013 numbers. However, there’s one spot where they feel the crunch.

“On the defensive front right now we’re thin,” Helton said.

For Helton, it’s not that USC hasn’t recruited well enough up front, it’s that the Trojans have suffered some unfortunate injury trouble up front, losing Kenny Bigelow in the spring then missing Noah Jefferson for much of the fall.

“You lose some guys that you were really counting on to make a huge difference and they’re not there,” Helton said. “Those two bodies alone right there are vet players that can help you.”

Helton is keenly aware that the uptempo ASU offense could force the Trojan defense into more than 80 plays on Saturday.

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Against Utah, tired legs up front certainly contributed to the late points conceded to the Utes.

While the defensive line may not have a wealth of reinforcements, other positions could see more rotation in response to what happened in Salt Lake City.

“We’re going to have to try to steal maybe six plays a half to be able to rest a couple guys,” said Helton.

With that many snaps, USC will need to be ready to rely on more substitutions than they normally would, putting responsibility on young players to step up seamlessly.

Among the players Helton singled out, Connor Murphy, Jordan Iosefa, John Houston and Olajuwon Tucker could see more action than mornal.

“Those kids are getting ready or close to ready,” Helton said. “We’re going to have to count on them to do their job.”

From the Notebook

  • Injury Report:
    • Offensive guard Damien Mama was back in action on Wednesday but was spelled at times by Chris Brown.
    • Tackle Zach Banner was held out again with his ankle injury. Helton indicated that he would be back on Thursday.
    • Cornerback Jack Jones is closer than expected to a return with an ankle injury of his won. After calling him 50-50 on Tuesday, Helton said the freshman has a chance to get back in time for Saturday’s game.
    • Center Khaliel Rodgers suffered a minor wrist injury while running back Dominic Davis had a knee problem, but neither injury is a major concern for Helton.
  • Offensive lineman Jordan Simmons took first team reps at right tackle in place of Banner as well as second team reps at right guard.
  • Sam Darnold threw a touchdown to Justin Davis during the 11-on-11, ones-vs-ones period, hitting the back on a short pass which he ran for the score.
  • Earlier in that period, Darnold found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a long reception down the sideline.
  • Marvell Tell had a sack on Darnold.
  • Adoree’ Jackson was wearing new shoes on Wednesday. He lost one of his shoes on the game-winning touchdown against Utah and doesn’t plan to let these ones slip off.