Hoping for chance to win at the end . . . not

Lots of ways to look at this USC team trying to bounce back Saturday in the Palouse at pass-happy Washington State as Steve Sarkisian wishes for another chance to show what his Trojans can do in finding a way to win at the end. But maybe not this week.

Steve Sarkisian can't wait.

"Multiple gut-wrenching losses," are the first words you hear after leaving Adoree Jackson's Wednesday scrum for the head coach who's already started his.

Why would anyone want more . . . of that? Weren't the Arizona State and Utah losses enough for a season if not a lifetime?

But there is a rationale here. No one is hoping for another nailbiter down-to-the-wire game when USC could find its way to fight through it this time and prove itself at the end. At least not the next two games against Washington State Saturday and Cal 12 days later. But soon.

Sark says he's been pleased at how well the Trojans have practiced Tuesday and Wednesday and how his team has reacted. He's told them "how well they've played . . . but they have to finish."

As to getting into the end-game scenario, the worry, Sark says, is that recent history "can creep into a young man's mind -- 'Oh no, here we go again.' "

There's a simple answer, Sark says. "We're all at our best when we play with belief, not hope," he said in as true a statement as a coach has ever made. "Quite honestly I'm looking at the chance to make that happen."

Playing with belief . . . not hope. Exactly.

"Hopefully we call the right stuff," Sark said, when that moment comes next.

Here's hoping.


Justin Wilcox was shaking his head at the thought of it. "They threw the ball 88 times last week (79 officially)," USC's defensive coordinator was saying of the challenge to stop Mike Leach's one-of-a-kind offense. "They spread the field and they don't take sacks the way they protect."

What USC has to do is "mix it up," Wilcox says. "Bring guys" at times, but then on the back side, "make plays on the ball . . . but you can't get beat for explosive plays."

Jackson, for one, can't wait. "Even our linebackers are saying they can't wait to see the ball in the air," the quick corner said. "It's a great opportunity for me."

"They've got a great receiver, a big dude (Santa Margarita's River Cracraft)," Su'a Cravens says, "and a quarterback (Connor Halliday) who throws the ball a lot," in one of the understatements of the year about the nation's most prolific passer.

One caution from Sua -- and Sark, talking about the possibility of rain and temperatures in the low 40s for the 1:30 kickoff (Pac-12 Networks) maybe working against all that passing. "We can't let their run game hurt us," Su'a said of a Cougar team whose 45.9 rushing yards is second-worst in the nation.

Singled out this week by Sark for their inclusion into the gameplan at the Rush spot are Charles Burks and on the other side behind Su'a -- Quinton Powell. "Natural pass rushers," Sark said. "That's what they did in high school."

And in another classic understatement: "The odds are they're going to throw the ball," Sark said. His number is 85. "They might throw it 85 times Saturday," weather allowing. "That's hard even to say."

So give them a bunch of bad plays when they do. And as fired up as redshirt junior Burks is for his chance, the not-quite 6-foot, not quite 235-pounder says he's not approaching it any differently.

"I am excited about it," Burks says. "I love to rush the quarterback. I love the chance to play. But I come out every day to practice with that attitude. I come out and try to have fun and take advantage of every day I have to get better. You never know how many of these you're going to get."

Right now, for Burks and Powell, one chance will be plenty.

Tap-dancing with Toa

As expected, Sark said the move of freshman Toa Lobendahn from guard to tackle on the left side of the O-line went well Tuesday and expect him to be a feature there -- maybe for a career.

"Toa looked really good, he's athletic and has great feet . . . the move showcased his feet" . . . especially "against the pass rush," Sark said. "This might be where his future is."

Replacing Toa on Wednesday was Khaliel Rodgers, who Sark says is 100 percent back from his Grade 2 MCL sprain although Khaliel said it's maybe 90 percent. "I'm ready to play," Rodgers said, "for sure."

Damien Mama, who tweaked his right knee Tuesday, had ice on it Wednesday but USC will take a look at it again Thursday. "Aundrey [Walker] has to be ready to spell these guys," Sark said of the senior who came in for Wheeler last week at Utah.


A little more clarity on the injury/rehab front today . . . Replacements for Chad Wheeler already noted and J.R. Tavai, out for at least a couple of weeks with a knee sprain, will be replaced by Felix and Burks . . . Antwaun Woods was back but out of pads and riding a bike . . . said the bike riding felt great but wouldn't say so about himself . . . Said "you have to ask Sark about injuries" and when told Sark said he was "sick," Antwaun said, "Yeah, I'm sick." But he couldn't say whether he'll be able to play Saturday . . . Gerald Bowman and George Farmer were back and full-go after not making the Utah trip Saturday . . . Being left behind, Bowman said, hadn't left him "surprised" but "disappointed" he said at being told right before the team left . . . Could he have played? As a competitor, he said "Sure," but realistically he'd have had to see after he warmed up how his sprained foot felt . . . Soma Vainuku still "extremely limited" according to Sark and doubtful for Saturday . . . Leonard Williams was here but without his helmet and shoulder pads and observing as he rests his shoulder again. "I'm getting mental reps," he said, and so far, "I'm able to do it." . . . Ajene Harris still a bit limited.

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

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

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