Now that the Trojans have managed to stop the long ball, they're going to have to pay much more attention to the short ball.
After grading 111 Arizona offensive plays, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox realizes that even though USC allowed only 4.9 percent explosive plays (15-yard pass, 10-yard run), what they did allow was way, way, way too many midrange third down conversions.
"It's situational awareness," Wilcox said. "We've got to finish plays especially on third down."
"Third and four," Wilcox said, that's where you have to get off the field. But faced with 22 third downs, USC gave up conversions on 11 of them. "If we get stops on five of those," Wilcox said, "that's eight to 10 plays they don't get."
Plays USC doesn't have to defend. And has fresher players available at the end, which is where it looks like a lot of USC games are going to be decided. "You have to play with a calm mind," Wilcox said, "and have the situatonal awareness to finish those plays."
Just awareness tackling with the ball and the first down marker is a good start. Little things like that. Make a play and get off the field. But again, that's a much better place than a week ago after giving up 510 yards passing and four scoring bombs or two weeks before that after getting shredded on the ground by the Boston College option.
Wilcox was much more upbeat this week: "We can do a better job."
Next up at safety
His name is John Plattenburg and if you ask him, "I'm a safety," he says after coming in as a cornerback this summer. The freshman who split his high school career between Houston, Texas, where he played at Lamar High School as a freshman and senior, and Corona, where he played as a sophomore and junior at Centennial, says his focus is becoming a starter.
"But that's how I come out here every day," Plattenburg says as he may be coming close to his goal this week. Although his real goal "is to do my job, stay disciplined."
"He adapts," Sark said of the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Plattenburg, who has excellent speed for a safety having run a 10.7 100 meters as a junior and a 10.5 relay split as a senior.
Combining the two positions isn't as easy as it might seem, Plattenburg said. "One is way different from the other: One you're giving the call," he said of the safety, "the other, you're playing off the call."
And now he's waiting for the call. For those of you lucky enough to get the Pac-12 Networks, you can tune in to the Colorado game at 3:30 p.m. PT Saturday for the USC Homecoming from the Coliseum.
Would he kick it? He would
If you'd like to understand why this USC team has a chance, and had one a year ago despite all that's happened to it, take a look at Alex Wood the way he was working Wednesday morning at just another USC practice.
The walkon placekicker from Mercer Island, Wash., had one two-week moment in his three-year USC career. It happened in the Syracuse and Stanford games his freshman year when he went eight for eight in extra point attempts for the injured Andre Heidari. And then back to the life of a walkon. Showing up every day, winter, spring, summer and fall, lifting weights, hanging out, hitting the books, being a Trojan.
And then last week in pregame warmups, it was clear, Heidari's groin pull wouldn't let him go. And it was Alex' job to kick it off in a stadium full of "white noise," he said Wednesday. "All right," he told himself. "Here's my turn."
Again. Only not like his freshman year. I've gotten better," he said. "I've gotten stronger." And that's just what he showed, kicking the ball maybe seven yards deep into the corner of the end zone. Just the way they drew it up."I kept my head down and hit it good," he said. "You don't have any time to think about it because then you're helping out in coverage." But when he got to the sidelines, he knew the two years of preparation had paid off. "Great job, Woody," they told him. And kept telling him.
"Every kickoff from then on, with two more into the end zone, "Hayes [Pullard] and Su'a [Cravens] would come up to me and remind me -- 'Good kick,' they'd say." And good kick it was.
So was it worth it, asked on a day when he kicked off first even with Heidari's return and shared field goal duties? "It's USC. Sure it's worth it. I'm here for football but for me USC is a lot more than football."
And USC football is a lot more than it might have been with guys like Alex Wood making the kinds of commitments to the Trojans that they do.
Sark has obviously noticed. "I really like his demeanor," Sark said, noting how Cody Kessler gets all over him before he kicks and how well Alex handles it. "He's been fine." And may well continue to be with Alex kicking off and saving Andre for field goals, at least for the immediate future.
"In a perfect world," Sark said, Lamar Dawson and Tre Madden "would both redshirt," He would be meeting with Madden's parents later today, Sark said, as all indications are that it's going that way . . . No report after practice about what the Pac-12 told Sark after reviewing the officiating in the comedy of errors that was the USC-Arizona game . . . Sark said he was fined a year ago for commenting just on what the league office told him so he's taking no chances and said we'd have to get the Pac-12 to tell us directly . . . One guess here is that if Sark were told that they got it all right, he'd be good to go when discussing the Clown College that Pac-12 officiating has become . . . So stay tuned . . . Fullback/special teams specialist Soma Vainuku missed much of practice to rehab his hamstring pull from the Arizona game . . . Leonard Williams was out of his shoulder pads and helmet and stayed away from contact or team stuff but should be fine Saturday according to Sark . . . Adoree Jackson was back in pads and practicing and saying he's pretty much 100 percent and wanted to be sure with his groin and hip flexor and that's a carryover from his track days . . . It's also this, he said: "This isn't high school, you can't play unless you're a 100 percent." . . . Uchenna Nwosu arrived after 45 minutes out of pads after rehabbing his back . . . Safety Gerald Bowman participated fully but in a yellow jersey as he protects a deep thigh bruise.
For a wrapup of Wenesday morning's practice, check out WEDNESDAY COLORADO WEEK GHOST NOTES.You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.