USC football practiced on Wednesday with some legitimate momentum, perhaps for the first time this season. Although the Trojans dropped three games on the road early in the fall, they returned to the Coliseum last Saturday and cruised to a 41-20 win over Arizona State.
But there is no time to celebrate, as USC prepares for its fourth matchup against a ranked team this season. No. 21 Colorado visits Los Angeles on Saturday atop the Pac-12 South and averaging a whopping 43.2 points per game—including a 41-38 shootout victory at Oregon two weeks ago.
The Trojans terrorized Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins last week, and they will look to similarly contain Colorado’s dual-threat signal caller: freshman Steven Montez, who passed for three touchdowns last Saturday and rushed for 135 yards two weeks ago.
Although the blitz proved more than effective against the Sun Devils, Trojan defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said that wouldn’t become a pattern.
“It was situational — it’s about how we feel our matchups are and how we want to best utilize our guys based on those matchups,” he said. “So if we feel like we can get into throwing lanes against them, then we’ll do so, and if we feel like pressure is good, we’ll do that as well.”
Head coach Clay Helton echoed Pendergast, saying more blitzes weren’t necessarily part of the game plan, but he also said he thought the team needed to “be aggressive in all phases this week, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams.”
The Trojans also focused a great deal of attention on figuring out wideout Shay Fields, who has caught three passes over 60 yards in five games this season for the Buffaloes. The junior has also tallied five touchdowns—already a career high.
“Shay’s always been fast, but he’s really picked it up as a natural receiver,” said junior safety Chris Hawkins, who has played with the Bellflower, California native. “He’s making good [defensive backs] look pretty bad on tape.”
Helton called Fields’ big-play ability the best USC has seen to date.
“The guy’s doing an incredible job over his career,” he said.
Fields and company will undoubtedly provide yet another tough challenge for the Trojans, but Helton said he was happy with his team’s progress just over a month into the season.
“The thing you hope as a head coach is that each unit is progressing and getting better as we move forward, and I think you’ve seen that from game one to right now,” he said. “Now our goal is to keep going — you need to be playing your best football in November when it matters most.”
Helton also provided updates on several injured Trojans. Redshirt senior right tackle Zach Banner continued to miss practice with an ankle issue, redshirt senior defensive end Jabari Ruffin remained in concussion protocol and redshirt freshman safety Ykili Ross was nursing a shoulder injury.
Helton said Banner and Ruffin were “50/50 at best” to play on Saturday, while Ross was doubtful. Banner received a platelet rich plasma injection today, but Helton admitted it was “not looking promising.”