USC football practice notes: Palaie Gaoteote to play at WILL (11/21)

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

Palaie Gaoteote is likely to lineup at the weakside linebacker spot for USC football vs. Notre Dame with John Houston uncertain with a hamstring injury.

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USC football’s defense has been no stranger to injury absences and it appears another is likely this week.

Starting weakside linebacker John Houston sat out another day of practice on Wednesday after sustaining a hamstring injury against UCLA. He is officially “day-to-day” but it seems likely he will miss at least some time this weekend. As a result, freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote has shifted over to the WILL in his place.

The freshman has already started for senior Cameron Smith this season when injury also took him out of the lineup, but this particular assignment is a far more manageable one than taking over for a seasoned veteran at middle linebacker.

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“Cam will get him lined up and now he’s just got to focus on his responsibility and his task rather than others,” head coach Clay Helton said. “For him it’s an easier day.”

Gaoteote is looking forward to the opportunity to be more aggressive in his role. Where he felt the need for patience when he stood in at the MIKE, the WILL will give him license to “fly around.”

“I like to play fast and physical, being instinctive and getting to the ball as fast as I can,” Gaoteote said after practice on Wednesday. “Being in the WILL and having one gap, one assignment, not having to worry to get all the calls in, makes a lot of things more easy. I feel really comfortable in it.”

The likely cameo in that role will give USC fans a taste of the player who is expected to anchor the middle of the Trojan defense for years to come.

“He’s going to be a really special player down the road,” said Helton.

Notes and tidbits

  • Emotional Senior Day… USC will be sending off a group of 24 seniors on Saturday, making for an emotional day for Helton. “They were the ones as freshmen that helped fight for a Pac-12 South title and helped me get the job,” Helton said. “We look up and we win a Rose Bowl together and a Pac-12 title together.” The head coach credited the group, including the likes of Cameron Smith, Porter Gustin, Iman Marshall, Marvell Tell and Ajene Harris, with playing well on the field but also leading well.
  • Supporting the seniors… Attendance has been down for the Trojans as the disappointing season has unfolded, but Helton is hopeful for a good atmosphere on Saturday. “I hope they come out and celebrate with those kids,” said Helton, specifically referencing the senior class.
  • Senior swap?… Senior defensive backs Isaiah Langley and Jonathan Lockett sported unusual jerseys during practice on Wednesday. Langley gave his No. 24 to injured safety Isaiah Pola-Mao while taking his No. 21 for the day. Lockett suited up in No. 4 instead of No. 23.
  • Best ND team?… Is this the best Notre Dame team Helton has faced in his time at USC? “I would say so,” Helton answered. Comparing 2018 to the 2012 team which came in ranked No. 1, Helton still gave the nod to the current squad, which he says has no apparent weaknesses: “I like this football team. I think it’s a complete team.”
  • A team to be reckoned with… Facing “a team to be reckoned with,” Helton knows it won’t be easy to come away with a much-needed victory. “It’s going to take our best effort and they’re going to get it,” Helton said. “We look forward to having the opportunity to compete for the Shillelagh.”
  • Happy Thanksgiving… Helton opened his post-practice media scrum with a holiday message: “Happy Thanksgiving to all the Trojans out there and all the college football fans. I hope everybody has a great one with their families. I’m very thankful for this football team and this coaching staff, how hard they’re working.”