The trash talking between Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris and USC safety T.J. McDonald, former Fresno Edison teammates, started early in the form of text messages and a phone call.
"I don't know anything about that," McDonald joked Monday.
"We had a little chat. It's all fun though."
Harris, who famously introduced himself to teammates with a memorable and expletive-laced phrase, has certainly earned the right to talk some smack. The sophomore has returned three punts for touchdowns this season and leads the Pac-10 averaging 19.8 yards per return.
Based on their time together, McDonald isn't surprised to see how effective Harris has been as a return ace for the Ducks.
"He did some stuff in high school that makes you just say wow," McDonald said. "He got some natural ability to him. We definitely have to be ready for him. It was no surprise to me when I see the things he's done this year with those punts."
It's not only Harris leading the way on special teams for No. 1 Oregon. Running back Kenjon Barner, injured at Washington State, also returned a punt for a touchdown this season.
"People don't do that in four years, let alone seven games," said USC coach Lane Kiffin of the four punt return touchdowns.
"I only know numbers. No. 13 (Harris) and 24 (Barner) are really good players," special teams coach John Baxter said.
Kicker Rob Beard is perfect this season, making all six field goals and forty extra points. Only seven of Jackson Rice's punts have been returned for a total of eight yards.
"(Oregon) presents a big challenge," Baxter said.
Outside of a missed field goal against Washington and a long kick return allowed at Stanford, the Trojans' only two losses this season, USC has been equally strong in all facets of special teams.
"The bottom line is they are really good in kickoff coverage," Baxter said. "So are we. They are really good on punt returns and so are we. This is the No. 1 and 2 punt return teams in the league and the two best coverage units.
"The way I look at it, it's going to be like two ferrets fighting over a hole."
And while Wisconsin and Missouri opened their upsets of top-ranked teams with kick returns for touchdowns, Kiffin downplayed the need for a clear win on special teams.
"Obviously you want to win all phases of the game but you can't say right now we have to have a significant play in special teams or we won't win," he said.
After missing three games because of a back injury, defensive end Wes Horton returned to practice Monday.
Horton, the redshirt sophomore from Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, had 4.5 tackles for loss and team-high three sacks before being kicked in the back by Nick Perry at Washington State.
"I feel like it's finally at the point where I can go full-go," said Horton, who declined to provide details as to the extent of his injury.
With Horton back and Perry using the bye week to rest a sprained ankle, the Trojans have their full compliment of defensive linemen for the first time this season and at just the right time, against Oregon's up-tempo offense.
The Ducks are running an average of nearly 78 plays per game despite holding the ball for just 26:40, meaning the defense must be ready to run all night long.
"I obviously know it's going to be a big factor being off for three weeks," Horton said. "But last week and this, I've tried to make it a point of emphasis to sprint to the ball more than I ever have and get as much conditioning in as possible."
-Linebacker Malcolm Smith (knee) and running backs Dillon Baxter (foot) and C.J. Gable (knee) were among the players that did not practice Monday.
"Hopefully they'll be back tomorrow," Kiffin said.
Offensive tackle Tyron Smith was limited.
-USC worked on live tackling in drills, with a special emphasis for linebackers and the secondary.
-Coming off of a bye, the Trojans were able to install their game plan on Monday, earlier than usual.
"It's good to be ahead. This is the same schedule we used for Hawaii," Kiffin said.
-Even after visits to top-ranked Florida and Alabama last season as head coach at Tennessee, Kiffin said Oregon is the toughest place to play in all of college football.
"I still think Autzen Stadium is louder than all those," Kiffin said.
The defensive line got a boost from the return of Wes Horton.