Utah ahead but one last look at CU

As much as the Trojans were looking forward to Saturday's matchup against Utah for first place in the Pac-12 South, it was hard not to look back at what Cody Kessler and his corps of receivers like JuJu Smith managed Saturday.

The talk was of Utah and Saturday's battle for first-place in the Pac-12 South.

But that wasn't all the talk after Tuesday's full-pads first workout in another of those one-and-out elimination weeks for the 5-2 Trojans (4-1 in the Pac-12).

There was also the "How about our Cody" talk after USC QB Kessler's award-winning seven-touchdown-pass performance in the romp over Colorado and then the "What about Juju Smith? How does a 17-year-old look and play like that?"

Indeed, how does he do that? Receivers coach Tee Martin had some thoughts, echoing some of the great recent names at the position: "Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor -- JuJu is cut out of the same cloth. They want to compete. They want to be out there affecting the outcome of the game when the big moment comes."

Even if "He's just 17 years old," Martin said with a shake of the head. He'll turn 18 Nov. 22, the date of the UCLA game.

"I love where he's at," Martin said. "He plays physical. He has a high football IQ. If I were an NFL scout and looking for size, speed and hands, that's what you'd look for," in the 6-2, 215-pound freshman.

He played 23 plays on special teams Saturday in addition to 50 offensive snaps. Against Arizona State, make that something like 115 snaps. And nothing seems to bother him, not even his own mistakes.

"There's a lot of things he's not doing right," Martin says. "But he doesn't ball up about them. He's so caught up in competing, he doesn't let it affect him. For him, it's every play, every day. He just jumps up and gets ready to make another play.

Which is where Kessler comes in. "A confidence builder," he called JuJu's layout onehanded circus catch with his bad had on the first scoring drive. "I think I told him 'good catch,' " Kessler said, "then I saw it on film."

But that just reinforces what Kessler said QB coach/offensive coordinator Clay Helton keeps telling him. "That's why guys like JuJu come to USC, to make plays like that."

It wasn't the only play Cody didn't see on a day of so many big ones. On his second TD pass, a play that saw him hold the ball as long as he could before getting steamrolled, he just lay there for seconds. He was actually waiting to find out whether Agholor caught it and did he score.

"I just lay there until I heard the crowd," Kessler said. And they told him. It was going to be that kind of day. Just as the days following when Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart, who set some of their own records at USC, called and texted to let him know how proud they were of him.

"That was awesome," Kessler said, using his favorite word. It was the same word Steve Sarkisian used to describe how the attention and honors for Cody will affect this team. "When he has success, it's uplifting for everybody."

That's because Cody is "a very energizing teammate," Sark said of his relationship with the rest of the Trojans because "he expends a great deal of energy" on his teammates. So all those Player of the Week honors are shared as well.

Talking Utah . . . and Utah talking

Lots of praise from Sark about Utah's long-time and one-of-a-kind ability to get to the quarterback better than any team in the nation. It's not just about great players like Nate Orchard now, second nationally in sacks, or the Krueger brothers and Star Lutuleilei in recent years.

"I have a great deal of respect foe Coach [Kyle] Whittingham and Coach [Kalani] Sitake (defensive coordinator)," Sark said of a style that's "unique to them . . . they've been doing it for a long time."

From his comments on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches media call, Whittingham said the formula for his 19th-ranked Utes (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) was as simple as 1-2-3: "Defense, a solid run game and special teams."

But most of the talk was about Utah's unintended two-quarterback system with Travis Wilson (who will start the USC game) and Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson alternating nonstarting roles and then coming in to save the day -- sort of.

Absolutely not what he wants, Whittingham says. It doesn't work, even if it has thus far. But this week, while Whittingham wouldn't say it, Utah fans have proclaimed Saturday's game (7 p.m, Fox Sports 1) as the biggest in Utah's short Pac-12 history.

"Quite honestly, we're getting ready to play against both of them," Sark said of the dual quarterbacks, and even for the possibility that "both of them will be on the field at the same time." Thompson is the athletic run guy, Wilson the lanky thrower.


Mostly good news on the health/rehab/injury front . . . Adoree Jackson apparently wasn't as injured as thought after Saturday's game and with two days rehab was back fully in pads and going hard . . . Hayes Pullard and Gerald Bowman, who each got dinged up Saturday but not seriously, mostly did the movement stuff but not any team or contact work with each ready to go for Utah . . . Wide receivers George Farmer and Ajene Harris both took part fully . . . Placekicker Andre Heidari was back, in pads, and hit a 47-yard field goal to conclude the kicking portion of practice . . . Leonard Williams in full pads and full force for the first time in three Tuesdays . . . In helmet news, Utah's new blackout headgear won't be the only new look on the field Saturday as USC will wear the new shinier helmets with the silver/chrome masks for the first time on the road after debuting them against Colorado. Might actually be a better look contrasting with the white road jerseys than trying to match up with the cardinal home ones.

For a wrapup of Tuesday morning's practice, check out TUESDAY UTAH WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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

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