The Trojan football team might be entering the final stretch of its 2014 season, but it has its sights set for now on the California Golden Bears. USC is gearing up for its first game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in nearly a month, which will kick off this Thursday at 6 p.m.
The Trojans (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12) are coming off a bye week that allowed the team to earn some rest following two road games, which the team split.
This week’s tilt will be only the second non-Thanksgiving, non-bowl Thursday game played in the Coliseum’s history. In the first game of this kind last year, USC defeated Arizona 38-31. The Trojans are hoping for similar success this year against the Bears (5-4, 3-4).
USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said that the team is embracing the alternative schedule.
“We kind of get one more day of prep here tomorrow before our normal Friday routine,” the first-year head coach said. “We can really clean some things up, stay locked into the details of the game plan and be fresh and ready to go Thursday night.”
The Trojans did not practice last week, allowing multiple players to tend to their wounds following the team’s 44-17 victory at Washington State on Nov. 1. They got back on the field on Saturday to get a full five days of preparation in before taking on Cal, who is also coming off a bye week.
Though the Thursday night game might be disorienting to fans, senior linebacker and team co-captain Hayes Pullard said it hasn’t affected the team’s preparation.
“We really didn’t even remember the days we were playing on over the weekend,” Pullard said. “It’s just a chance to get better each and every day.”
Pullard and the rest of the Trojan defense will have to bring their “A” game on Thursday to defend the high-powered Cal offense. Led by sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, the Bears are third in the conference in total offense, averaging 509.1 yards per game, and second in scoring offense, averaging 41.9 points per game.
Goff, who has thrown 27 touchdowns and four interceptions this season, could take over the conference lead in passing yards following Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s season-ending leg injury.
Sophomore Su’a Cravens, who has transitioned from safety to linebacker this season, said the team is anticipating a touch matchup against a quarterback who shows so much confidence.
“We can see on film, there’s plays where he’s on the opposite hash and he’s throwing an out to the field,” Cravens said. “Not a lot of quarterbacks are comfortable with doing that, so he’s a great player.”
USC’s roster is already running low on numbers, but the secondary is especially depleted, so Cravens and his teammates will have to step up to slow down Goff. Following the suspension of senior cornerback-safety Josh Shaw at the beginning of the season, a number of young players have rotated at safety, one of whom is freshman John Plattenburg. Plattenburg was carted off the field following Sunday’s practice, and Sarkisian said he suffered a thigh contusion and his status is day-to-day.
Cravens, who tweaked his knee against Washington State, was back at practice and said if the game were today, he’d be able to play.
Freshman wide receiver JuJu Smith, who left Sunday’s practice with something in his eye, was back at practice on Monday.
Sophomore safety Leon McQuay III, who collided with freshman cornerback-wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson against Washington State, showed what Sarkisian called a good range of motion in his shoulder.
Redshirt junior fullback Soma Vainuku participated in practice to a fuller extent than he has since he came back from a hamstring injury.