By the time USC and UCLA kick off their annual rivalry game this weekend, two weeks will have elapsed since the team’s worst loss in the Pete Carroll era, a time span that allowed much needed rest for a weary Trojan team.
The 55-21 loss to Stanford in the Coliseum exposed weaknesses in the Trojan attack, and, following the ugly loss, the urgency for injured players to return to action increased.
The 14-day break will afford the Trojans an opportunity to do just that.
For a struggling USC offense, the return of redshirt junior wide receiver Damian Williams is of the utmost importance. Although Williams has yet to return to full practice, he did participate in a few tests of his injured ankle during Monday’s practice, and USC coach Pete Carroll remains confident in the redshirt junior’s ability to return from the injury.
“[Damian] is the kind of guy who will find a way to play,” Carroll said. “Veterans find a way to make it, and he’s going to try in a way to try to adapt to what he’s got.”
Junior defensive end Everson Griffen has also returned to 100 percent, according to Carroll. For Griffen, the team’s sack leader, to return to full strength is important for a Trojan defense that was burned for 469 yards against the Cardinal.
“We just have to bounce back and prepare well. If you get it done on the practice field you can get it done during the game,” Griffen said after practice on Monday.
The Trojans will be looking to respond in a big way against UCLA as they try to get their eighth win next Saturday, but the Bruins aren’t going to roll over. After losing five straight games in the middle of the season, the Bruins have won three straight and are bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
Last week against Arizona State, the Bruins were able to force six Sun Devil turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
“They’re playing good consistent football and their defense is solid,” Carroll said. “They’ve been able to get turnovers and kept scores low all season long.”
UCLA’s offensive attack has been a surprising recent strength for the team as well, with multi-threat quarterback Kevin Prince leading an offense that’s averaging 30 points per game during its recent winning streak.
“Kevin is a really good football player and obviously effective,” Carroll said of the talented freshman. “He makes good throws and can run well.”
For Carroll and his coaching staff, preparing for a much-improved Pac-10 conference, including the rejuvenated Bruins, has been a challenge every week.
“There are a lot of good teams in our conference this year. It’s the best it’s been since I’ve been here,” Carroll said.
Thankfully for Carroll and the Trojans, these extra days were also an opportunity to prepare for the Bruins.
“We’re way ahead of where we usually are this time of the week on UCLA,” Carroll said.
The Trojans will face the Bruins under the lights of the Coliseum at 7 p.m. on Saturday.