Looking for help in all the right places?

At the end of another week of game prep work with Arizona State in town Saturday, Steve Sarkisian was calling for Antwaun Woods, here, along with Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons to step up their playmaking to join Leonard Williams across the Trojans front line.

It's the time of the year when you hope you can go with the flow -- at least a little bit. No breaking news, no fires to put out, no rash of injuries to account for, no upset to bounce back from.

That seems to be where the 16th-ranked USC Trojans (3-1 and a Pac-12-South-leading 2-0 in the league) are right now as they head to the Coliseum for Saturday's first game against another team from the South -- Arizona State's uptempo, unpredictable and maybe un-starting-quarterbacked -- Sun Devils, also 3-1 (1-1 in the Pac-12 South).

No players are available after the closed Thursday practice in helmets, shells and shorts so it's Steve Sarkisian solo here. An upbeat Sark, it would seem, although as he said, it's easy to be that way "forty-eight hours before kickoff" or as he also called it, "the day before the day before . . .

Things can look pretty good for a Trojans team that mostly righted itself, or at least righted itself enough in last week's 35-10 penalty-marred romp over an Oregon State team that couldn't score an offensive touchdown against a USC defense back-loaded with young playmakers.

So is the offense, with one playmaker standing out. It's junior quarterback Cody Kessler, Sark says. Cody has thrown no interceptions this season on his way to No. 6 in the nation in pass completion percentage (.720), No. 16 in the nation in pass completions per game (23.8) and pass efficiency (167.4), No. 23 in passing TDs with 10 and No. 25 in points responsible for per game -- 16.5.

Sark feels if there's one area he'd like to see Kessler improve, it's "anticipation of his throws and recognizing situations . . . not taking sacks."

But if there's one place Sark is looking for improvement, the penalty issue isn't No. 1 on his list as he reminds us of the way USC won its two penalty-marred Pac-12 games and lost the Boston College game with an ACC crew and just three penalties. Sark will take the win -- and the penalties.

The only comforting thing about being down at No. 115 in the nation in penalties with 9.0 a game is that Cal and Oregon State are below USC.

Although that has to change in at least one area. Sark will give you the one group -- "three false starts in a row, I haven't seen that in my life," he said of that Oregon State series worth forgetting and probably won't happen again. "But we have to clean up our hands in the secondary," and that as much as USC wants "to play man and press coverage, we have to clean that up," Sark says.

But where they'd better pick things up is the trio next to Leonard Williams on the defensive front -- Antwaun Woods, Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons.

"We'd like for each of our guys to be much more active," Sark said after a week in which they've been just that. "And we pointed that out to the team. Those three guys have playmaking abilities."

One other note that touches on the penalties and USC's frontline guys. Sark said he again viewed the plays on which Oregon State linemen were injured and about which defensive coordinator Mark Banker said USC did so with illegal chop blocks and "none of them were penalties," Sark said. And he would be speaking to Banker to "emphasize to Mark that we don't teach that."


Freshman wide receiver Ajene Harris will be out Saturday after suffering a left hamstring pull Wednesday, Sark said, meaning that redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell, coming back from knee surgery last fall, "will see the most action he has all season," according to Sark. Will he start in the slot? Sark isn't saying. They could always move Nelson Agholor over as they did the first couple of games . . . Tailback Tre Madden missed practice again after working on individual drills Tuesday. Looks like the tailback rotation for ASU will be Buck Allen, Justin Davis and James Toland, who got the work Wednesday although Davis was grabbing his hamstring as he left practice Thursday and talking to the trainer. . . Sark did say there were no injuries we should know about so it's probably nothing . . . Jordan Simmons, with his bone bruise, spent much time inside rehabbing while Aundrey Walker will be counted on once again . . . "He needs to get better not just get on the field," Sark said of Walker with the prospect of both the temperature and the play numbers hitting the mid-90s, that wlll matter a great deal if players like Zach Banner get 30 plays off like the 6-foot-9, 350-pound right tackle did against Oregon State . . . And Victor Blackwell again not in attendance

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

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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