Trojans are dropping like flies.
Freshman tailback Justin Davis and junior linebacker Lamar Dawson were officially declared to be out for the season by interim head coach Ed Orgeron after practice on Wednesday, adding to the laundry list of USC injuries. Consequently, Orgeron has been forced to tone down the physicality during practice.
“We just have to practice smart,” said Orgeron about the injuries. “That’s part of football; it’s going to happen.”
Davis had an operation on his ankle this week and is recovering at the hospital with family. Davis is out for the season.
Dawson suffered a severe knee injury yesterday during practice and will likely have to get surgery.
“[Redshirt sophomore linebacker] Anthony Sarao, [freshman linebacker] Quinton Powell and [freshman linebacker] Michael Hutchings and those guys are going to step up and be ready for the call,” said Orgeron.
After pushing Dawson for playing time the entire season, Sarao will get his chance to start with Dawson out.
“I prepare for every game the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting or not, you have to prepare like a starter,” Sarao said.
Redshirt junior safety Dion Bailey has yet to practice this week. With him out, it looks like freshman Leon McQuay III will be starting at nickel safety, taking lessons from the veterans at his position.
“[Redshirt junior cornerback] Josh Shaw and Dion Bailey are always quizzing me,” McQuay said.
McQuay has seen limited minutes this season, mainly playing on special teams. He will have big shoes to fill this Saturday.
With Shaw making the move back to corner, senior Demetrius Wright will also see increased reps at safety on Saturday.
Redshirt sophomore tailback Tre Madden’s status is uncertain, and the Trojans still have unanswered questions with tight ends Xavier Grimble, Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick all injured.
“We don’t know exactly who’s going to play tight end, but we still have a whole two or three days left,” said Orgeron.
Walk-on running back Taylor Ross suffered a leg injury yesterday and had to have paramedics transport him to the hospital. Fortunately, Orgeron says Ross underwent surgery and is recovering well.
Orgeron in a tough predicament in just his third game as interim head coach, but he remains optimistic.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Orgeron said. “Somebody’s going to show up and someone’s going to get take the opportunity and play very well this week. I’m sure of that.”
Corner or Safety?
Josh Shaw has played both corner and safety during this season, playing the former against Notre Dame. But as a result of the lack of productivity at cornerback versus the Irish, Shaw is switching back to corner.
“We really struggled at the cornerback position, but when he was there we weren’t struggling,” Orgeron said about the switch. “We feel that with some offenses he might have to play cornerback with some offenses he might have to play safety.”
Shaw admitted that he has not completely been able to get into a rhythm at either position since he has moved so much.
“I’m getting more and more used to it,” Shaw said. “At times it can be difficult since I’m playing safety for two weeks then corner then back to safety then back to corner.”
He has been practicing back at corner since Monday. Despite the constant changes, he has a positive outlook on the situation.
“I welcome it,” Shaw said. “I think it’s only going to help me in the long run and for right now it’s what’s best for the team so I’m all for it.”
His flexibility has made him a healthy asset to the Trojans’ defense. Since moving to safety, he was nicknamed the quarterback of the defense, exercising his leadership on the field.
“I’ve been telling the group, it has to become personal at some point when someone’s catching the ball on you,” Shaw said. “No more, ‘we’ll get it next time.’ We have to go out there and establish what we want to do from play one.”
After junior kicker Andre Heidari faltered in last week’s game against Notre Dame missing two field goal attempts, his lackluster performance opened up the kicking competition to walk-ons sophomore Alex Wood and redshirt junior Craig McMahon. The trio have been tested on fundamentals and game situations.
But Heidari said it’s not as much about technique and fundamentals as it is about mental issues for him.
“It’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent technique and everything else,” Heidari said. “I’m like a golfer who’s lost his swing.”
Heidari suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee during the Hawaii game last season and underwent surgery.
But he said it has nothing to do with his health; he is just “in a funk.”
“When you come to USC, it’s about competition,” Heidari said.
That is exactly what Heidari has on his hands for the starting position going into Saturday’s game.
Orgeron said he is leaving it up to special teams coordinator John Baxter, and the two will discuss Friday who has emerged out of the three.