The Trojans got some good news Thursday as running back Marc Tyler and offensive tackle Matt Kalil returned to practice.
Officially designated as limited by USC coach Lane Kiffin, both Kalil and Tyler participated in the service period, the most important part of practice when game plans and preparations for the opponent happen.
Kiffin declined to name a starter at tailback with Tyler and C.J. Gable coming off injury and Allen Bradford playing poorly recently. Dillon Baxter, who started against Arizona State, ran well but struggled in pass protection, a major concern given the strength of Arizona's defensive rests with its ends.
"We just rotated a bunch of guys in there today and we'll see how they look as we get closer to the game," Kiffin said.
Bradford, who was expected to start coming into this season, saw just one carry against the Sun Devils.
"Allen has put the ball on the ground," Kiffin said.
"If you pull out his last 15 carries, there's not a lot of great stuff there."
On the other side of the ball, safety Jawanza Starling did not practice for a third consecutive day and Kiffin has yet to disclose the exact nature of his injury.
While Kiffin said he was hopeful Starling would be able to play, redshirt junior Marshall Jones is expected to start at Arizona.
Entering fall camp, it was Kyle Prater, not Robert Woods, expected to emerge as the freshman sensation addition to the USC receiving corps.
Coming out of Chicago Proviso West, Prater made a series of sensational plays throughout the spring despite being limited by a hamstring injury. But after suffering a groin injury in the fall, Kiffin, Prater and his family decided to redshirt this season.
Prater has now come on of late, making a series of standout plays against the Trojans defense in service period this week.
"He's very close to 100 percent," Kiffin said.
"I'm working towards it, but I felt good this week," Prater said. "I'm not where I want to be because I've got high standards. It's frustrating but I made the decision to sit out this year. I'm just sitting back from this situation, trying to learn from it and get better."
That includes a focus on using tape to get better, starting with how to mimic the opposition and prepare USC for game day.
"I'm in the film room everyday, that's one thing I can tell you," Prater said. "I'm trying to get better in every aspect of my game. I'm watching everybody, NFL film, film of other teams. See what I can pull from everybody."
Kiffin is very pleased with Prater's development and what is to come.
"It's good to have him out here and be able to develop him and then you get him all over again," Kiffin said. "It's like you sign him again when they redshirt, comes back again and already knows the offense and everything. He's got a very bright future here."
With Ronald Johnson set to depart after this season, there will be a spot in the starting lineup available opposite Woods.
Of a potential Woods-Prater starting tandem next season, evoking memories of Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett or Keary Colbert and Mike Williams, Prater said with a smile, "I think about it all the time."
-Center Abe Markowitz and tight end Blake Ayles did not practice Thursday.
-After a blistering start, the Trojans have struggled on third down of late, going just 12 of 32 against Oregon and Arizona State.
Quarterback Matt Barkley attributed those issues to failing to create manageable downs and distances.
"It starts on first and second down," Barkley said. "The reason we were doing so well early in the season was because of those positive yards. The last couple games, we've hurt ourselves with long third downs whether it's a sack or a penalty, a bad throw to make it second and 10.
"Putting ourselves in good situations on third down makes it a whole lot easier to convert those plays."