Lee sits out as USC gears up for fast-paced Wildcats
It’s been an eventful two weeks for USC football, but the Trojans are now putting their 62-41 loss to Arizona State and the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin behind them to focus on their upcoming opponent — the Arizona Wildcats.
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron will lead the team against Arizona in his first game as a head coach since 2007.
On the mend
Many a USC fan’s heart stopped last Saturday when junior wide receiver Marqise Lee was injured in the fourth quarter at Arizona State.
Since being diagnosed with a knee sprain, Lee has been spotted on crutches and has not practiced.
Orgeron is doubtful that Lee will return to practice this week, but didn’t rule him out completely for Thursday’s game, allowing a shred of hope for the Trojan faithful.
“Thursday night’s a long time from now, and guys seem to make miraculous recoveries, so we’ll keep on working,” Orgeron said.
If Lee sits out of Thursday’s game, the Trojans will be left with only two healthy wide receivers on scholarship — sophomore Nelson Agholor and redshirt sophomore Victor Blackwell.
Perhaps the absence of Lee won’t doom the Trojans this Thursday, though. Agholor has proven capable of making big catches, and when redshirt junior tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer have been targeted, they’ve been successful.
The lack of depth at the receiver position might prompt more emphasis on the running game than usual, so senior tailback Silas Redd’s return couldn’t come at a better time.
Redd’s knee surgery last spring has kept him out of the first five games of the season, but he wore full pads on Monday and looked explosive as he blew past defenders despite wearing a brace on his left knee.
With Kiffin’s departure, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton will serve as the playcaller, and time will tell whether he will utilize Redd as a boost to the already-impressive running game headlined by redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Madden and freshman tailback Justin Davis.
Redd’s energy in practice exemplified the atmosphere of the newly installed Orgeron era.
Though Kiffin usually remained stoic on the sidelines, there was never a dull moment at practice on Monday, as Orgeron barked out orders, and the players raved about the newfound intensity of the team.
“Oh, we love it,” redshirt junior cornerback Josh Shaw said. “He brings a lot of energy in here and we feed off him … Energy is up about 10 times, you could say.”
The team will need to maintain this energy in Thursday night’s game, as they face a formidable opponent in Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, who is ranked fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game.
As a sophomore last year, Carey led the nation in rushing yards, earning him a spot on multiple preseason awards watchlists for 2013, such the Walter Camp Award, given to the best college player of the year.
USC’s No. 14th-ranked defense will do its best to slow down Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker, who has been a running threat this season, totaling 280 rushing yards and a team-high six touchdowns.
The game against the Wildcats will represent a number of firsts for USC.
It marks the first regular season, non-Thanksgiving Thursday night game ever hosted by the Trojans.
But that note has been eclipsed by the fact that it will be the first time Orgeron will run out of the tunnel as USC’s head coach.
Orgeron, who served as the head coach of Mississippi from 2005-2007 and has worked as the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at USC since 2010, has no reservations heading into his first game calling the shots.
“[There’s] a little pep in my step — I’m ready to go,” Orgeron said. “I’ve seen the guys … they fire me up. I mean, the eyes and the way they’re reacting, they’re smiling and walking around here enjoying practice.”
The players explained their motivation to help Orgeron record his first win as USC’s interim head coach.
“Everyone wants to come out here and play as hard as they can because everyone likes Coach O and they want to make sure we do good for him,” sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams said. “We just want to play up to his expectations and just have fun.”
Follow Aubrey on Twitter @aubreykragen