The return of running backs junior Joe McKnight and redshirt junior Allen Bradford was a welcome sight Wednesday for a USC team still dealing with a spate of injuries.
Both McKnight and Bradford had been held out earlier with lingering injuries from Saturday’s game against Oregon. But the Trojans’ two leading rushers both ran Wednesday and are on track to play against Arizona State.
McKnight had been battling soreness in his ankle and hamstring earlier in the week.
“It’s still a little sore, but I think it’s better for me to be out here practicing with the team,” McKnight said.
Bradford had also been struggling with a knee injury, but said he felt fine after getting warmed up on Wednesday.
“I couldn’t cut that hard to get upfield, but I think by tomorrow I’m gonna be alright,” Bradford said.
The running backs will be needed against an Arizona State defense that ranks fourth in the country in run defense. Last week against Cal, the Sun Devils held the Golden Bears to 57 yards rushing on 30 carries.
“They swarm as a defense, but we’re ready for that,” Bradford said.
Although the two USC ball carriers have bounced back this week, senior tight end Anthony McCoy appears unable to play on Saturday. He sat out practice Wednesday in street clothes and is still too sore to run.
“I can’t imagine he’s going to bounce back in these last couple of days,” USC coach Pete Carroll said.
Although the USC defense came under fire this week, the Trojans’ offense is also looking for answers heading into the final four games of the season.
“We played just as bad as the defense played,” McKnight said of last week’s game. “It’s a team effort, and we lost as a team.”
Quarterbacks coach and playcaller Jeremy Bates said he was happy with the team’s performance in the first half against Oregon. But after falling behind, the Trojans emphasized the passing game, a decision that Bates said he regrets.
“We have to stay balanced and not try to force big plays,” Bates said. “You can’t start pressing too early, and looking back I thought we pressed too early. If we had stayed with the first-half game plan, I think we would have been better off.”
The health status of many USC defenders is still up in the air at this point in the week.
After Carroll said Tuesday that junior linebacker Malcolm Smith would not be able to play this week, the junior participated in non-contact drills on Wednesday.
Smith faces an uphill battle to play against Arizona State, but Carroll said he may have spoken too early about his availability.
“After seeing him today, maybe I was wrong,” Carroll said. “He came out here and got some work done.”
Junior defensive end Everson Griffen sat out of practice and remains questionable for Saturday. Freshman linebacker Jarvis Jones will not be able to play against the Sun Devils, according to Carroll.