Personality test for Trojans Saturday

As this USC team finds out who it is and figures out who to play where, freshman outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu looks like one of the bye-week players who has stepped up and is ready to see more action on a team trying to find itself.

How easy it was for Steve Sarkisian to characterize this Oregon State team of Mike Riley that his USC Trojans will be facing Saturday (7:30 p.m., ESPN) at the Coliseum.

How the meshing of a big, strong, accurate veteran quarterback like Sean Mannion in a huddle-up system that takes 30 seconds to run its plays and knows exactly what it wants to do presents a challenge to USC if the unbeaten Beavers are allowed to play their clock-eating, fly-sweeping, play-action, down-the-field-passing game.

Can't let them dictate the tempo or win that battle, Sark said. "It's going to be interesting to watch." To say the least, as it turned out in a philosophical discussion after Thursday morning's closed practice about football and this Trojans team.

But which Trojans team? The one that ran just 129 plays against Stanford (59) and Boston College (70) and fell far short of the opening-game 105 against Fresno State or the one that should be running 80 a game according to the standard Sark has set for it this season.

So who is this USC team? What's the personality going on with these guys? If you can define Oregon State in a sentence or two, how do you define your own team, Sark was asked.

"It's one thing for me to say it," Sark said of "a long journey" . . . "a process that wasn't going to happen overnight" and a team "we're still trying to figure out." as Sark repeated, "just three games into it." Or now almost four, a really important fourth game, on Saturday.

"Obviously we love to play at great tempo,' Sark said of the personality he hopes to see his team develop, "and utilize the talent we have on our roster to get the ball to players in space in the passing game . . . and run the football and be physical at the point of attack . . . [a team] that plays great in the Red Zone . . . and an attacking team that creates turnovers."

Getting there, Sark said, has to start now, and requires some doing immediately, like on first downs that have failed this team consistently the last two games.

"We just have to improve our execution . . . and our play calls," Sark said. "It's a bigger down than people give it credit for. Everybody likes to focus on third down and the Red Zone and goal-line but first and 10 sets all that up.

"We've made it a point of emphasis -- executing on first and 10," Sark says of USC's bye week focus, and done so "with the goods on the goods," he says of going first team against first team to get the most competitive situations.

And now comes Game 4 and "hopefully Saturday night we can move in the direction of the team we want to be," Sark says.

It will come down to doing what coaches do, or are supposed to: figure out the schemes, fundamentals and execution that gives this team its best chance to win, unlike what happened at Boston College.

"It's why you love coming to work every day, why you love going to practice and help a player develop and find the schemes that best fit the skill sets of your team," Sark said. It's something else, as well.

"It's also what keeps you up at night . . . but that's part of being a coach and why we love what we do."

And why USC fans will love what he does, as well, of course completely dependent on how Saturday night turns out.


OG Khaliel Rodgers and OLB Uchenna Nwosu both should be ready to go, Sark said, of the pair who got dinged-up a bit and left early Wednesday . . . When asked for the guys who have jumped out in the bye week work, Sark again pointed to freshmen DB/WR/KR Adoree Jackson and WR Ajene Harris along with outside linebacker Nwosu, whom Sark calls "vastly improved" along with a healthy-again freshman safety John Plattenburg, back from his achilles strain . . . Sark said he could see Aundrey Walker playing if the game gets into a USC-favorable tempo and the Trojans do lots of rotating on offense but Sark also noted what a good job Zach Banner has been doing at right offensive tackle . . . Victor Blackwell again was not in attendance at practice . . . neither was a rehabbing Tre Madden.

For a wrapup of Thursday morning's closed practice, check out THURSDAY OSU WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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