Defense getting ready to go for it?

Trojans defenders were talking about how they can step up against another challenging passing attack as the Cal Bears and Jared Goff come to the Coliseum Thursday night.

Su'a Cravens was back, no longer scared about what happened to his knee in Pullman, and ready to go. To top it off, he's getting to play nickel again this week.

"That's why I came here," Su'a said of the chance to be a defensive back and work on his man-to-man coverage skills another week. Going against another top quarterback in Jared Goff who leads Cal's pass-happy attack "means a lot more man," Su'a said.

And seeing his MRI the day after the Washington State game, realizing there was no serious damage, no ACL issue, no surgery, just rehab, helps here. "Of course I was scared," Su'a said, "until I saw the MRI. I'd never sprained my MCL before."

Now he has. And now he knows. And now he's hoping he'll be allowed to play a lot of man coverage.

Just don't ask defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox about that. "It's all about your matchups," Wilcox said to a question as to whether this USC team with a maturing secondary would blitz more causing it to play more man on the back end.

Asked about his earlier comment this season that USC has been protecting the young guys on the back end of the defense by staying away from the blitz and staying in zone, Wilcox wasn't having any of it. "When did I say that?" he responded.

Actually both he and Steve Sarkisian had said that more than once, most recently after the Utah game after a no-blitz USC defense couldn't stop that final Utes' drive. Here was Wilcox' take Monday.

USC will do "what's the best thing to win the play . . . What are we good at?" Wilcox said you have to ask yourself and what can they do to beat you if you do that. "You might want to bring pressure," he said, "but then you might be better off playing coverage."

So let's just listen to Su'a. "A lot more man," he said. And maybe that goes with pressure although not for certain. Not against Goff. "He anticipates very well," Sark said. "He really understands that system and gets the ball out very quick."

Adoree Jackson has the answer. "Just be aggressive to the ball," he says as the freshman looks to his first college interception after coming close. "We like that challenge. We look at it as an opportunity."

An opportunity to step up and make a play. "A couple of the games we gave away are on the defensive backs," Adoree said. "This is not a unique challenge."

"Coach [Keith Hayward] challenges us every day," Leon McQuay III says. And his shoulder injury is proof of that, coming in an aerial collision with Jackson on a deep ball at the sideline at Washington State.

"I saw him coming," McQuay says of the play that he ended up getting flipped by Adoree and landing on his shoulder. "But the ball was in the air and I just went for it. That's what we have to do."

But they have to have some help here this week, especially if John Plattenburg's thigh contusion keeps him out, which certainly looks more likely than not. That's where a walkon like Matt Lopes steps up -- and in.

"Matty really caught our eye in spring," Sark said. He's strong enough to take on blockers and not afraid to -- and is a fixture on special teams.

The contributions of walkons have been "awesome," Sark says. "It's great for our team when guys get the opportunity to make plays and they do.

Talking 2 other Trojans



*** Greg Townsend Jr: "He showed great pass-rushing ability," Sark said of Townsend's first college start at Washington State. "The chicken pox set him back but he's a fast-twitch guy . . . he had one sack last week but could have had a couple more."

*** Steven Mitchell: "He's got a natural wiggle," Sark said after Mitchell made the play of the day on offense with a spectacular onehanded grab Monday. "We've been pushing him to run full-speed" now that he's healthy after missing last year after knee surgery and he showed that speed on last week's TD catch. "It's been great . . . he's a talented guy . . . there's definitely a place for him."

Footnoted



Amazingly, freshman safety Plattenburg was back in gear and showing decent range of motion with his right thigh bruise, classified as a thigh contusion, that had him carted off the field Sunday . . . he'll be day-to-day, Sark said . . . Juju Smith was back and 100 percent after his something-in-his-eye experience at practice Sunday . . . McQuay would have been in a yellow jersey if they were in pads, he said, but with much better range of motion in his bruised shoulder but he said he'll be fine Thursday and did everything with the first group . . . Soma Vainuku is the healthiest he's been after his hamstring pull and back on special teams with a vengeance . . . USC's practice schedule has the Trojans at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday in a closed practice in helmets, shells and shorts again followed by a Wednesday walthrough.

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

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


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