Schizophrenic SC 'D' must be of one mind

With a trip to the desert to face No. 10 Arizona Saturday, USC's defenders, players and coaches, must find a way to get on the same page.

Those of you who believe that famous Santayana quote about how "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," would have been pleased with the aftermath of the USC football practice Wednesday.

On the day of the week when the defense answers for itself, there was whole lot of remembering the ending of the Arizona State game for USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- and the promise of fixing things in the future.

His description of this USC defense, the one that tried to assimilate on the fly two different defensive calls on that game-losing Hail Mary -- "Schizophrenic," Wilcox said. As well they might be.

"Half the guys were in one defense, half in another," Su'a Cravens said. "I was in zone." And far away from the football when it came down to star wide receiver Jaelen Strong. "We were playing one of our defenses," Su'a said, "other guys were playing another one . . . it was miscommunication."

The choice was to go "max drop man" or "max drop zone" with the thought that ASU might instead of going for the end zone might throw it short from the USC 46 with seven seconds left, get the ball out of bounds and kick a long game-winning field goal. So they ended up making the call that would give them a chance to do both: "Max drop zone," it was, unlike the play before.

"Most everybody got it," Wilcox said in as damning a four words as a coordinator at game's end ever could mouth. "One guy got it late."

"A lot of us were in the wrong positions," corner Kevon Seymour said.

One guy -- ASU's Strong -- wasn't. "We still had some zone eyes," Wilcox said, "and didn't do a great job judging the ball. And I've got to do a better job communicating to them."

As to his team's split personality, Wilcox could point to how "we're unable to defend the run one game" against Boston College and then two games later, "they're very physical and really defend the run" against ASU. But not the pass.

Steve Sarkisian chose to go the other way with his analysis, preferring the "glass is half-full" take. ""Justin is a great football coach," Sark said, citing how USC shut down "the best passer in the league (Sean Mannion) last week" and stopped the top running attack in the Pac-12 in ASU by "playing really good defense Saturday for three-and-a-half quarters."

The USC players weren't throwing Wilcox under the bus. "We have to play all four quarters," Leonard Williams said.

And Seymour, whose critical mistake diving for the ball allowed the quick-hit 73-yard TD pass that set up the game-winner, came to Wilcox' defense. "It wasn't his fault. We gotta' make plays."

And yes, Kevon knew on that play he was singled up with Cameron Smith and had to get there with no help behind him and just didn't. "I just made a mistake," Seymour said. And yet he still thought maybe "someone would knock him down behind me" after he missed. Even though there was no one there.

Maybe it is schizophrenia. You know you're all alone and you still think that maybe someone will come along to save you. As this USC team has proved a couple of times now, no one did.

Looking at Shaw, Powell



Sark was somewhat cryptic in his weekly answer about the return of Josh Shaw from his suspension. "Obviously when you have a senior defensive back in our conference, we'd love for that to happen. But I don't have anything new for you . . . Josh is doing everything on his end to get back but [right now] there's not even a decision we have to make."

As to Quinton Powell, who has a prominent role on special teams but very little in the regular defense, Sarkisian said he's hoping the 6-foot-2, 205-pound outside linebacker is "embracing his role" as it is and that further time on the field is impacted because "he does not have ideal size for his position." And that the answer for Powell is a structured weight-gain program -- "a really good diet" -- over the next six months that enables him to gain the needed "15 to 20 pounds."

Redshirts possible



With Tre Madden unavailable for practice again Wednesday and Lamar Dawson participating but clearly slowed down by his surgically repaired knee and not doing any contact work, Sark indicated that "conversations have begun" with each of the fourth-year players for a possible redshirt this season. Sark said of Dawson, "if you put a gun to my head, I'd say he's going to redshirt and be available for spring . . . and we're getting to that point with Tre Madden as well." He said he expects the "final decisions to be made by the end of next week.""

Madden, who missed his second season two years ago after knee surgery, has already redshirted but would still have a fifth year for his eligibility next season. But he's been hampered by turf toe since the preseason and has yet to play. "He's really frustrated," Sark said. "Tre wants to come back." But can he? "I had some concerns," Sark said after the turf toe "for a big man like Tre making those violent cuts."

After coming back last Tuesday for one workout, Madden has yet to practice.

Footnoted



Freshman wide receiver Ajene Harris was out again with a left hamstring pull from last week with redshirt freshman Steven Mitchell, hopefully back all the way from his knee surgery last fall, stepping in for him . . . Safety Gerald Bowman for the second day was out of pads but working on the bicycle with a deep left thigh bruise and they're hoping he's OK . . . Tailback rotation for ASU will be Buck Allen, Justin Davis and James Toland although Sark noted how Soma Vainuku could step in there as could Jahleel Pinner and that USC remains five-deep at the spot . . . Long-snapper Zach Smith was cleared for noncontact work Tuesday and snapped for the first group in the Scout portion of practice and Sark is again hopeful he'll be cleared this week even though he wasn't for the ASU game . . . LB Nick Schlossberg did the long snapping in the team contact portion Wednesday . . .

For a wrapup of Wednesday morning's practice, check out WEDNESDAY ARIZONA WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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

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