No. 25 USC practiced for the last time on Thursday at Howard Jones Field before its season opener at home against Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.
With more than 30 new players looking to play their first game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, there remained an air of excitement and buzz around the field, particularly from freshman kicker Andre Heidari, the starter following the graduation of Joe Houston.
“It’s a team effort, and everyone’s putting in work here,” Heidari said. “I know when I get in there I’m going to be all pumped up, it’s going be loud [but] I’m going to be focused. I don’t have jitters yet, but Friday — I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get some sleep.”
The Trojans open the season with questions at several positions, namely at tailback. Sophomore Dillon Baxter, freshman Amir Carlisle, junior Curtis McNeal and freshman D.J. Morgan are still vying to start, following senior Marc Tyler’s suspension.
Of the four starters, Baxter was the only one to log carries in 2010, finishing with 252 yards and one touchdown on 54 carries. Carlisle was still in high school, McNeal was academically ineligible and Morgan was recovering from ACL surgery and redshirted as a result.
Joining the four in the backfield is former tight end and newly named team captain Rhett Ellison, who has showcased his versatility as a fullback. He and freshman Soma Vainuku are expected to see the majority of playing time at the position.
Thursday remained a light practice with players suiting up in just shoulder pads and gym shorts. There didn’t appear to be a dropoff in intensity, however, especially during special teams drills. The scout team wore UCLA-colored jerseys, which grabbed everyone’s attention.
“Hopefully they’ll be motivated to get off the service team so they won’t have to wear the powder blue jerseys,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
When asked further whether there was a deeper message: “Not really,” Kiffin said. “We were bored.”
The offense ran a lot of goal line sets Thursday, showing a focus on what junior left tackle Matt Kalil termed as “finishing games,” something that was problematic for the Trojans last season.
The defense, meanwhile, stayed true to its “that’s our ball” slogan and was constantly looking to strip the ball from offensive players. After practice ended, the team grouped together and held somewhat of an emotional rally to get focused for Saturday’s game.
Senior linebacker Chris Galippo practiced Thursday and appears ready to play this weekend despite missing a few practices this week. Freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson has been receiving repetitions at middle linebacker, as Galippo has been rehabbing an injured back. Kiffin said he expects to figure the highly regarded Dawson into the rotation even if Galippo is healthy enough to play.
The offensive guard position seems to have been somewhat solidified, with sophomore John Martinez and junior Jeremy Galten getting a majority of the first team reps Thursday. The depth chart at the wide-receiver position seems clearer as well, with freshman Marquise Lee, redshirt freshman Kyle Prater and junior Brice Butler getting the majority of reps opposite sophomore Robert Woods.
Injured redshirt freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins was on the field as well, throwing passes with his left hand and getting involved with the offensive play calling.
Scroggins tore ligaments in his throwing thumb earlier in camp and his status remains unknown. With Scroggins sidelined, freshman quarterback Cody Kessler will serve as the team’s primary backup to Barkley, should the junior signal caller be sidelined.