Injuries have taken their toll on USC this season, but the Trojans have been able to play well despite the circumstances.
Saturday at Oregon, USC could be without key starter sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods because of nagging shoulder and ankle injuries. Woods did not participate in Wednesday’s practice, and for some time now, according to the coaching staff, his injuries have affected his performance, and his health isn’t getting any better.
“If you just look at the last two games and if you look yesterday at practice, he’s going the wrong direction,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Even though we limited his practice, he’s not getting better. So hopefully this will help. If he can’t go this week, at least the time off and the weekend off hopefully he’ll be back close to full speed for UCLA.”
Kiffin said there is a real possibility of Woods sitting out against the Ducks. Replacing him, however, won’t be easy. Woods has recorded 92 receptions for 1,126 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, but against Washington, he was held to a career-low two receptions and five yards. Though Woods plays a significant role in the Trojans’ offense, the coaching staff believes other players will be able to step up in his absence.
“There’s no secret that affects us,” Kiffin said. “A guy that’s caught over 90 balls and you’re losing him — but we need guys to step up. That’s why these guys practice hard all year long and they’ll get their chance. Last week Brice Butler made a big play for us early and the other guys need to step up.”
Woods wasn’t the only player sitting out or limited in practice on Wednesday. Senior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris did not practice, while fellow senior defensive tackle Christian Tupou was very limited. Other notable absences were sophomore safety Demetrius Wright, redshirt junior offensive tackle Matt Kalil and freshman offensive tackle Aundrey Walker.
“George [Uko] played really well last week in his first start as a freshman. And so did J.R. [Tavai] as a true freshman,” Kiffin said. “But obviously we’d like to have DaJohn back because of the rotation especially because obviously we want to get a bunch of guys in there and rotate them through. Hopefully he’ll be back and be able to play some for us.”
The setup looks a little familiar.
USC takes on one of the nation’s top teams from the Pac-12 North division that has national championship aspirations and a Heisman Trophy candidate on national television.
Three weeks ago against Stanford, USC went wire-to-wire with the Cardinal before falling short in triple overtime.
Fast-forward to the present, and USC finds itself in a similar predicament. This time, it will face Oregon at Autzen Stadium, a daunting task for anybody, given the fact that the Ducks have not lost a conference home game since Dec. 1, 2007.
Kiffin, however, insists his young squad is ready.
“We’re a lot more [prepared],” Kiffin said. “Going through Arizona State and Notre Dame has really helped them. I think that they’re a lot more comfortable.”