With a team featuring an offense that passes about 70 times a game looming ahead on the schedule, redshirt junior safety Josh Shaw is particularly excited about playing Washington State on Saturday.
The heavy pass attack will put a lot of pressure on the secondary, but Shaw said the team looked ready after practice Wednesday, adding that Washington State coach Mike Leach’s trademark aerial attack will serve as a litmus test for the Trojans’ relatively inexperienced secondary.
“Their quarterback [redshirt junior Connor Halliday] has a strong arm, and he can make all the throws, so we have our work cut out for us,” Shaw said. “They’re definitely gonna come out here and pass the ball, so we’ll see where our secondary stands.”
Though still less than 100 percent healthy, redshirt junior Dion Bailey should rotate around with Shaw and freshman Su’a Cravens at the two safety spots. Bailey added that all three should get on the field if the team runs a nickel package.
A bevy of cornerbacks are expected to continue to split playing time, including redshirt senior Torin Harris, redshirt junior Anthony Brown, sophomore Kevon Seymour and freshman Devian Shelton.
Though Washington State is considered to be one of the weaker teams in the Pac-12, the Trojans say they are not overlooking the Cougars. Instead of facing several non-conference teams to start the schedule, USC drives right into conference play and is viewing the Cougars like any other opponent.
“We’re not underestimating them to any degree,” redshirt senior defensive end Devon Kennard said. “I think they’re a very good team. Watching them on film, they do a lot of things really well. They get the ball out quick, and they’re gonna challenge us with their offensive line, so we have to come ready.”
While the Cougars looked less than stellar last week in a 31-24 loss against Auburn, who finished 3-9 last season and fired coach Gene Chizik as a result, there is no doubt in the team’s mind that overlooking Washington State could lead to an upset.
Bailey said that he hadn’t even noticed that USC had dropped a spot in the rankings and that they were not going to let anything about their place in the polls get in their heads, citing that the team may have come in overconfident last year as the AP preseason No. 1 pick.
“I guess you could say that we just fed into it [last year],” Bailey said.
Long time HOMECOMING
Redshirt senior defensive end Devon Kennard has a little more pep in his step this week in practice.
Most players are looking forward to returning to the Coliseum on Saturday. For freshmen, it will be the first time any of them compete before a USC student section.
“There’s nothing like playing under the lights in the Coliseum,” Shaw said. “The tradition, the experience for a lot of young guys like Su’a [Cravens]… It’s gonna be a great experience, and I’m excited to go out there and display great defense out there in front of our fans.”
But for Kennard, the game represents the end of a long journey. Injured with a torn pectoral all of last year, Kennard will be appearing in his home stadium for the first time since 2011.
“Every opportunity you get to play in the Coliseum is very special, and it’s been a while,” Kennard said. “[But] I’m gonna try and stay even-keeled. No game is bigger than any other game.”
Kennard looked great against Hawai’i last week as one of the leaders in tackles. With the switch to the 5-2 defense, he seems to have finally found his natural position as a hybrid outside linebacker. For his efforts against the Warriors, Kennard was named the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.
All quiet on the QB Front
The headlines stayed the same after Thursday’s practice, as there is still no word on who will be the starting quarterback in Saturday’s game.
Reports indicate that Cody Kessler, not Max Wittek, will be tabbed to start again and receive a vast majority of the reps against Washington State, but Kiffin and his players did not confirm or deny anything.
Kiffin also declined to say if senior running back Silas Redd practiced. If he stays inactive as he was last week, redshirt sophomore Tre Madden and freshman Justin Davis will support the two quarterbacks from the tailback spot. Last week against Hawai’i, the pair combined for 183 yards on 32 carries, with Davis providing the lone rushing touchdown of the night for either team.