Young Defensive Players Face Tall Task

Lamar Dawson and Isiah Wiley's paths at USC diverged early on, but on Saturday will come together when they take the field in a joint task of stopping Stanford's Andrew Luck.

There's nothing glamorous about fifth place.

Junior college transfer Isiah Wiley figured that out early. He came into fall camp seeing little else beside the back of his teammates' helmets.

But then he did what many USC players have done this season: they didn't try to get noticed… to get noticed.

So the cornerback studied. And waited. And waited some more.

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Lamar Dawson hadn't even walked into Howard Jones Field before he was told he was going to play, and play early, for the Trojans.

The middle linebacker from Danville, Ky. earned his state's Mr. Football of the Year award, but no amount of hype prepared Dawson for what was to come when he got to Southern California.

"I feel more experienced than [when] I came in, in the summer…it's a different speed but I'm getting used to it," Dawson said.

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Two injuries challenged Wiley and Dawson even more than the newbies expected.

Dawson was just beginning to feel comfortable with the college speed when he suffered a sprained ankle three games into the season. Starting middle linebacker Chris Galippo was forced to play a majority of the snaps.

"For a true freshman to be thrown into the situations he has he's done well," Galippo said. "To deal with an injury like he has and rebound, go through the rehab and still stick it out, he's playing really well."

One game later, against Arizona State, starting cornerback Torin Harris came down with a shoulder injury. That left Wiley to do cleanup on aisle 'opposite Nickell Robey.'

"That's a weird situation, it just happened. I was definitely confident about my abilities," Wiley said. "I haven't once doubted myself. I was ready [to play]."

While Dawson returned last week against Notre Dame, Harris' injury seems without a timetable. After auditioning several defensive backs, Kiffin & Co. went with the physical, but less experienced 6-1, 185-pound Wiley.

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Riding a 6-1 record and a combined six college games under their belts, Wiley and Dawson have yet to lose since playing together.

And this week, when the Cardinal comes to the sold-out Coliseum, it will be Dawson and Wiley's toughest task stopping Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is being touted as possibly the best college quarterback since John Elway.

"He's just so good. [He] picks out of the cards, makes the run, goes away from the blitzes, [he's] very good with his feet and can get the ball to his receivers," Dawson said of Luck.

"You have to prepare extra for him," Wiley said.

The Trojans are expecting a lot from these young players to stop an athlete like Luck, a line filled with veterans like Stanford's Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro and a strong running game that is averaging 219 yards a game.

"Andrew Luck is a very old, wise, great ball player. As a true freshman you just kind of set your jaw and do the best you can and follow your roles," Galippo, a senior, advised.

When USC head coach Lane Kiffin was asked whether these two inexperienced players were up to the Luck challenge, he remained skeptical.

"Well we're going to find out. With Isiah playing most of the game and Lamar is going to play a lot they're going to have to step up," he said. "That's really the theme of our program of guys stepping up, regardless of their age."

Stepping up no matter their age, and no matter where they started on the depth chart.


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