Trojans focus on tackling as starters begin to return

The Trojans returned to practice a day early to get a head start on preparation for what many say is the biggest and most anticipated game of the season against No. 1 Oregon. Everyone recognizes the importance of this game, from the walk-ons to the experts at College GameDay.

Going up · Sophomore cornerback T.J. McDonald leaps to intercept a pass in practice. The USC defense has prepared for the last week to face Oregon’s high-speed offense that currently ranks second in the nation. - Mannat Saini | Daily Trojan

USC coach Lane Kiffin, in an attempt to shore up USC’s tackling issues before facing the fast-paced Oregon offense, instituted a number of tackling drills for the linebackers and secondary. He has identified tackling as the weakness of the team thus far.

“If we could tackle at all in the secondary, we’d be 7-0 right now,” Kiffin said.

Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo understood the importance of the drills as well, emphasizing that the team has to be able to adjust to what the game plan calls for.

“The tackling drills caught us by surprise, but if that’s what the week calls for, then that’s what we have to do,” Galippo said. “Having coach Kiffin watch the drills also added a different level of intensity to it. We knew he was watching [the linebackers.]”

A lot of the talk around practice was about the tempo of Oregon’s “blur” offense. Oregon’s average time of possession is 26:40, 114th in the country. The Ducks lead the nation, however, with an average 55.1 points per game. Kiffin discussed the tempo of the Oregon offense, saying he “has never seen a team play with that tempo.”

“They are at a whole other level,” he said.

Despite the Ducks’ speed, sophomore safety T.J. McDonald said the team will be prepared for Oregon’s offense and special teams.

“We’ll definitely be ready. The big thing for us is just getting lined up and being on all of our assignments,” McDonald said.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton echoed that statement.

“We are ready. We have the best coaches to help us game plan. [Oregon] lines up in pretty simple formations. They can be stopped. Hopefully, we have a great week of preparation and we’ll be ready for Saturday,” Horton said.

A lot of players returned to practice on Monday, including Horton. Senior tailback Allen Bradford and senior center Kristofer O’Dowd also practiced Monday after being sidelined last week.

“It was good to get some guys back, but we’re obviously not at 100 percent,” Kiffin said.

Senior tailback C.J. Gable and freshman tailback Dillon Baxter sat out practice, giving Bradford and redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler the bulk of the reps at the tailback position during practice. Junior tackle Tyron Smith was limited.