No. 15 USC’s final practice before the start of the regular season brought with it a number of personnel updates for Saturday’s season opener against UNLV.
Head coach Clay Helton walked into the post-practice press conference with a crumpled slip of paper in hand. On it lay the names of sophomore outside tackle Austin Jackson, senior linebacker Porter Gustin and redshirt senior tackle Toa Lobendahn, among others.
Jackson will probably play, Helton said. Gustin might. Lobendahn is questionable. But the biggest name who will miss Saturday’s game will be starting safety Bubba Bolden, who is out of the lineup due to an undisclosed reason.
“From a personnel standpoint, Bolden is not going to be available for the UNLV game Saturday,” Helton said at the press conference. “There’s no timetable for his return, and I can’t comment further at this time.”
Until Helton made the announcement, it was believed that Bolden would make the first start of his career at safety against the Rebels.
When pressed, Helton did not speak further.
“Like I said, I have no comment further at this time right now,” he said.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Pola-Mao will start in Bolden’s place, Helton said, and redshirt sophomore C.J. Pollard and freshman Talanoa Hufanga will back him up.
Pola-Mao redshirted his freshman year, and will get his first career start come Saturday.
Hufanga, a true freshman from Crescent Valley High School in Oregon, might see action in his first-ever game as a Trojan as a result of Bolden’s absence. He finished his 2017 season with 44 tackles — seven of which were for a loss — a fumble recovery, and 35 receptions for a total of 696 yards.
Helton did provide details on other key injuries the Trojans have heading into the season, beginning with Jackson.
“I know that from an injury standpoint we were talking about Jackson yesterday,” Helton said. “He looked very good today. Anticipate him playing in the game.”
The 6-foot-6 sophomore only saw action in four games during his freshman campaign, but is slated to play against the Rebels after injuring his ankle during the offseason.
Gustin’s name was also on the list, but Helton wasn’t quite as dead-set on the outside linebacker, who is still recuperating from a torn meniscus suffered on the third day of summer training camp.
“Gustin looked very good again,” Helton said. “We will evaluate later.”
He left out whether Gustin will see playing time on Saturday, which will likely be determined Friday according to Helton.
Lobendahn, on the other hand, is still being evaluated with a pectoral strain.
“Lobendahn did not practice today, still questionable for the game,” Helton said. “[He is] not looking as good as [Gustin or Jackson].”
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. at the Coliseum on Saturday.