Freshman quarterback Matt Barkley dropped back during a team scrimmage Saturday and lobbed a pass over the middle to a streaking receiver. The throw elicited a momentary roar of approval from the crowd that died out after the receiver bobbled the pass.
In a scrimmage punctuated by hard hits and dropped passes, Barkley played a role in many of the best plays on the offensive side of the ball while his counterpart, redshirt sophomore Aaron Corp, stood on the sidelines and watched, his left knee secured in a brace and elastic sleeve.
Corp suffered a small crack in his left fibula two weeks ago that has since kept him from participating fully in practice. The injury further muddled the picture at quarterback, where Corp and Barkley have been battling for the starting spot.
Corp entered fall camp as the starter, but his injury and Barkley’s steady improvement have reopened the question of who will start Sept. 5 in the season opener against San Jose State.
Head coach Pete Carroll said Friday that Corp needed to be practicing full speed by Tuesday if he wanted a chance to start the season opener. Corp got a head start on that deadline by sneaking into a series of plays during the Saturday morning practice.
“I think it was against the trainer’s [orders] but Coach let me go,” Corp said. “It felt fine.”
Despite missing almost two weeks, Corp said he did not expect the time off to affect his readiness for the Trojans’ first game.
“I think I’ll be ready,” he said. “I gotta play well when I come back and practice. We get one more scrimmage on Saturday and then we’re into game preparation.”
The status of Corp’s knee is commanding most of the attention around the team these days, but several other key members have also gone down with injuries. Junior center Kristofer O’Dowd, a mainstay on the offensive line since his arrival on campus three years ago, is questionable for the season opener after he dislocated his right kneecap during a scrimmage two weeks ago at the Coliseum.
O’Dowd said his personal goal was to be back on the field as soon as his body would allow, but wants to make sure his knee is healthy. If he is unable to play by the San Jose State game, senior offensive guard Alex Parsons will likely start at center. Parsons started 10 games at right guard last season for USC and has taken the first-team snaps in O’Dowd’s absence.
O’Dowd said it wouldn’t take the rest of the offensive line long to adjust to a new center.
“We’ve all been together so long,” O’Dowd said. “It’s not so much a matter of miscommunication as a different tone [in the huddle].”
Preseason injuries have not been limited to the offensive side of the ball. Incoming freshman linebacker Frankie Telfort’s promising career at USC ended before it began this summer when tests revealed the highly touted freshman had a genetic heart condition. Telfort was expected to help fill the void at linebacker left by the departures of Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga and Kaluka Maiava.
The defensive line was also expected to help USC adjust to life without its departed linebackers, but the unit suddenly has two holes to fill.
Redshirt senior Averell Spicer, a presumptive starter at defensive tackle, sprained his ankle during fall camp and will be out for at least another one to two weeks. Sophomore defensive end Armond Armstead broke his foot last week after safety Shane Horton stepped on it. Armstead, who has already had surgery, is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
Despite the loss of two potential starters on the defensive line, Spicer does not expect the unit to miss a beat.
“Our D-line is just stacked with talent,” Spicer said. “Even now we don’t know who the starters are going to be. It’s not like we don’t have guys who can play.”
Junior Hebron Fangupo, a transfer from Mt. San Antonio JC, is a favorite to fill in for Spicer at the tackle spot, while sophomore Malik Jackson will look to pick up the slack for Armstead at end.