Making the November move

The young O-line is coming around even with new guys stepping in, the quarterback is putting up remarkable numbers, the skill players are awfully athletic and it's time for this USC team to put it all together . . . it's November.

They looked good, no doubt about that. Nor any doubt about the single most used word after USC's full-pads practice Sunday.

"Awesome," was that word . . . for the young Trojans offensive line, for Toa Lobendahn and Khaliel Rodgers individually, for Cody Kessler's 25 to 2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, for Buck Allen's six straight 100-yard-plus rushing games . . . and for Sunday's full-speed in addition to full-pads practice.

Yes, the Trojans were feeling pretty good about themselves this weekend. And their goal of an unbeaten November. Just don't ask them about the UCLA or Notre Dame or finishing up 4-0. "We can't play Notre Dame without playing Cal first," Allen said. And about that 4-0 November record. "You gotta' go 2-0 first."

Steve Sarkisian was sticking to the script after a couple of questions on the third recent story -- this one in the LA Times -- where former interim head coach and longtime beloved USC assistant Ed Orgeron has expressed his love for USC and a longing to maybe return in some capacity after walking out before the Las Vegas Bowl when Sark was named head coach. So what about that? Could it be?

"We play Cal Thursday night," Sark said -- not once but twice. He wasn't really going there. "I don't speak about hypotheticals." But he would speak about the man USC players and fans call Coach O. "I'll say this about Ed . . . he's a friend of mine . . . "

But what about his saying he'd like to come back some day? "I'm sure there's a lot of people who want to come back to USC," Sark said. "It's a great place."

Asked if he'd have a reference for Coach O if AD Pat Haden needed one, Allen said simply: "He's a players' coach."

But there were a couple of topics Sark really did want to talk about -- a young offensive line that even as it moves players around and fills in for injured starters keeps improving and quarterback Kessler's stats.

"It's been awesome," Sark said, referencing the latest move on the O-line that had left guard Lobendahn moving out to tackle and Rodgers stepping in for him in his first start. "When guys' numbers are called, it's great to see them step up," Sark said.

He wasn't the only one talking about the O-line. "I'm really proud of them," said junior center Max Tuerk. And no, he doesn't have to change up the line calls for the toung guys. They know what to do.

Lobendahn said he thought he "did pretty good" against Washington State in his first tackle start but he wanted to talk about Rodgers, who was playing next to Toa in Toa's old spot. "It was awesome to have him right next to me," he said, "and to see him pulling on those plays."

but no sweat about knowing what to do or how to handle Tuerk's calls. "Coach Drev (Tim Drevno) keeps pushing us to know our stuff."

"It's really cool to see Toa make the switch, that's so hard to do," Kessler said, "and then Khaliel too. I's really cool to see them both do it."

As for Cody and his national-best 25-2 TD/interception ratio, he says he knows it's "important" because taking care of the ball matters. But when he looks at it, what he's thinking is this: "I wish the two weren't on there."

But ask Sark, who sets up the numerical goals for his quarterbacks what he thinks and the word he comes up with raises the ante on "awesome."

"Astounding," Sark says. "It's a pretty remarkable number." The challenge now for Cody is to figure out how make even better use of players he says are "so athletic at the skill positions."

"We've got some cool weapons for him," Sark said. And with George Farmer healthy again and coming off maybe his best practice Sunday with Juju Smith excused because he had something in his eye that the docs couldn't get out on the field, Farmer got his chance.

Footnoted



Lots of injury info here for Sunday . . . JuJu Smith was expected to be fine despite leaving early with one of USC's team doctors to get whatever had gotten into his eye early in practice washed out completely, something that couldn't happen on the field . . . John Plattenburg was carted from Brian Kennedy Field to the trainer's table to get a deep thigh bruise checked on by team orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Tiboney . . . Sark said they would let us know if it was anything more serious . . . Leon McQuay III still in his yellow jersey to protect his bruised shoulder but he was fully engaged in all team activities . . . Su'a Cravens again was 100 percent after spraining his knee a week ago at Washington State . . . a belated "Happy Birthday" to USC head trainer Russ Romano, a greeting posted on the far wall in trainer's tape in letters several feet high . . . Soma Vainuku was back on special teams and back saying "I hope so," when asked if he's 100 percent . . . Ajene Harris made enough plays to assume he answered Sark's question from Saturday about where he was in his return from a hamstring strain. . . "A quick turnaround" Sark said of USC's practics schedule this week with an 8:15 a.m. Monday workout following the 2:15 p.m. Sunday one . . . USC expected to be back in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts Monday, in helmets, shells and shorts Tuesday with a closed walkthrough Wednesday . . . J.R. Tavai has not returned to practice this week . . . Kessler said he believed the players really benefited from the time off even if they did watch film, lift weights, get together to throw the football and spend a good bit of time in ice baths -- as well as class . . . "If I've got a lot of bumps and bruises, I can only imagine how those guys feel," Kessler said.

For a wrapup of Sunday's practice, check out SUNDAY CAL WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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


USCFootball.com Top Stories