The Trojans want to be at full strength when they play No. 1 Oregon on Saturday, but with the game only days away, the injury news is still mixed.
On the positive side, freshman running back Dillon Baxter practiced Wednesday for the first time in weeks. Baxter sprained multiple toes on his left foot against Stanford, forcing him to miss the Cal game.
Baxter looked quick on the practice field, but said he is only at 90 percent.
However, Baxter said he was further along than he anticipated and said he expects to play against the Ducks.
Senior linebacker Malcolm Smith, who had been battling a knee injury he suffered against Stanford, also returned to practice, although his action was limited.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton was not named at all in the injury report, which is good news considering Horton has battled a nagging back injury he suffered during the Washington State game a month ago. Horton was limited in practice last week and only participated in full practice this week.
Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Perry and junior offensive tackle Tyron Smith did not practice. Both have ankle injuries.
Despite Perry and Smith’s absence, the Trojans appear to be as close to full strength as they have been in a while. Health and extra time for preparation have been the two biggest keys to the Trojans’ off-week, USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
“Because of the uniqueness of the opponent that we’re playing, I think it’s helped,” Kiffin said. “Especially because of that and because of where our health was, if we can get those guys back, those are two big things.”
From an offensive standpoint, much has been made about scoring points and taking care of the ball as USC prepares for the Ducks. To do that, the Trojans’ offensive line must be quick at picking up blitzes.
Much of the onus will fall on senior center Kristofer O’Dowd, who is responsible for changing the protection to adjust to blitzes.
“He’s extremely important,” Kiffin said. “There’s so many different fronts and the fronts change at all times, and a lot of the fronts dictate what you do.”
Kiffin said that freshman receiver Robert Woods’ 61-yard touchdown catch against Stanford was possible because O’Dowd recognized a blitz and changed the protection just in time.
Linebackers coach Joe Barry is responsible for relaying the defensive calls from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin in the booth to the defense on the field. Playing against Oregon’s “blur” offense will make his job that much more difficult this week.
“It changes everything, no question,” Barry said. “The entire tempo of this game changes….We’re just going to have to be a hell of a lot faster,” Barry said.
Freshman wide receiver Markeith Ambles was suspended indefinitely Tuesday. Kiffin gave some insight into how Ambles and redshirt freshman linebacker Simione Vehikite, who is also serving a suspension, need to change their behavior.
“We have extremely high standards for our players that we expect as student athletes,” Kiffin said. “And Markeith wasn’t meeting those.”
Although the report that came out Tuesday stated the suspension was because of tardiness, Kiffin implied the suspensions were academic in nature. He said help from tutors is made available to the suspended players.
“If you’re not going to come here and be a student, then go somewhere else,” Kiffin said. “Your hope is that it serves as a wake-up call.”