Talking not to trash

No one is saying anything anyone can take the wrong way this Rivalry Week as USC's Trojans approach Saturday's UCLA game very carefully . . . and respectfully.

Not exactly the same old same old Tuesday morning at USC. It's Rivalry Week. And there are more media here. And the Trojan sword at the top of the McKay ramp is wrapped in duct tape. So something must be going on.

But mostly this is just a typical full-pads Tuesday. Josh Shaw wasn't here again for the 11th straight week despite all the rumors now that the LAPD and the DA's office have said there's no there there. And no one has any idea what, if anything, that means.

And Bryce Dixon is here, although as Steve Sarkisian said later, he has no clue whether the talented freshman tight end will be able to play. "It's in the University's hands," Sark says, exactly where the Shaw case is. Will Dixon play Saturday as the "student conduct" process moves on for him, Sark is asked. "I don't know yet."

So nothing there. How about Zach Banner, whose comments after the Cal game are the closest thing to inflammatory as they get this week. And what Zach said when asked was pretty safe stuff, it seems.

"They got us the last two years, but they don't own it," sportstalk-show-host-in-waiting Banner said. "They've just been renting it for a couple weeks."

UCLA Coach Jim Mora mentioned that to his team as noteworthy this week, but of course he would. He's the guy who loudly proclaimed in the Coliseum tunnel after last year's UCLA win for all the world to hear: "We own this town."

But in a complete rewrite of history, when asked that question on Tuesday's Pac-12 conference call, Mora said that's not UCLA's deal. They neither think or talk that way. He said the owning-of-LA concept "is on a mural" at USC. So he's not going there -- not until after the game anyway.

And neither is Sark, talking once again about his "two sisters who went to UCLA." The most inflammatory thing out of his mouth was how he'd grown up in Torrance "loving the Trojans . . . and the Raiders." You gotta' pick somebody, Sark picked USC.

But since his good friend Mora -- from their days in Seattle when Mora was home and out of coaching -- Sark talked about how "Jim's a great coach and he's done an excellent job at UCLA . . . a really good recruiter" and yet how Sark "still really wants to beat him."

That was as strong as it got Tuesday. Buck Allen said not only is he "100 percent" healthy but that he gets ready for every day the same way -- with everything he's got.

"I get excited for every game," the Florida native said. "It doesn't matter." And since he didn't grow up in California, "I don't know any of those guys" across town. So there are no personal motives here.

As to Zach, he's not elaborating on his Thursday "renting" remarks. "I'd rather not," he said. So no on the chance to restate or clarify anything. "To be honest, I really don't care what they think," he said of any Bruin critics.

And then there's Cody Kessler, who's just now getting noticed for a season that has him not only in the upper echelon of elite Pac-12 quarterbacks but in the nation not to mention the all-time USC record book.

He's No. 4 in passing efficiency (169.0), completion percentage (.702) and passing TDs (29), No. 9 in points responsible for (18.6 a game), No. 11 in completions (23.8 a game) and No. 14 in passing yards a game (291.9).

But he's not going to come close to saying anything to fire up anyone -- except maybe his Trojans teammates Saturday in Pasadena. "You never want to try to do too much," he says even on a typical Tuesday full-pads practice. "It's definitely a bigger game than usual but we're not trying to do anything extra."

And no super angst over losing two straight in the rivalry to the Bruins after so much Trojan dominance. "That's what makes it a good rivalry," he said. "It wouldn't be a rivalry if one team dominates . . . they got us last year."

So how was that? "Like any other loss, it hurts. Everyone in LA is going to be talking about it the next week." And then Cody let this slip out. It's more than just the next week. "It's been a long year."

And he knows there are two questions for a USC quarterback when they come to evaluate your career: "Did you beat UCLA," he said they'll ask and, "did you beat Notre Dame?" And thus far, he hasn't.

But his good friend, Brett Hundley, has a two-game win streak going here. "We're really good friends," Cody said. "We hung out at the Manning quarterback camp." And they exchange thoughts often. Just not this week.

This week, Cody says, although not to be quoted exactly, is for "working on our attitude" as much as it is on the gameplan.

Sark gets one final shot at a possible rivalry-tweaking answer. "Is UCLA the best team USC has played all year?" Good one. Let's hear his answer.

We'll see," Sark says, "ask me after the game."

Not exactly "We own this town," but in a week when everyone is clearly watching their words with more at stake than LA dominance, there's also the Pac-12 South with 11th-ranked UCLA (8-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12) completely in control of its fate while 24th-ranked USC, thanks to its last-second Arizona State loss, is not.

"Absolutely," Cody said of the added significance in the game. "Although we need some stuff to happen (an ASU loss in the final two games)."

Shaw, Dixon in 'University's hands'



"Cryptic," one person described Sark's comments on Shaw. Or maybe "scripted," said another. "No, nothing new from me," Sark said when asked if the fact that the district attorney had announced that no charges would be filed in the Shaw case after it was closed by the LAPD last week. "It hasn't gotten to my desk."

But in a new talking point, Sark said "I think it'd be great for Josh especially when it's your two rivals but we've played 10 games without him so we have a pretty good understanding of who we are." And again: "We've played 10 games without him," Sark said.

And a cynic might say, USC lost two of the 10 at the buzzer when a single defensive play in each might have left the Trojans at 9-1, already Pac-12 South champs and in the running, as UCLA fans think the Bruins still are, for the College Football Playoffs.

As to Dixon, he's practicing as if he's playing. But is he playing after a "student conduct" issue had him held out of the Cal game last week? "It's in the University's hands as well," Sark said. Will he be back for the UCLA game? "I don't know yet."

Dixon was unavailable to talk to the media, per USC staffers' instructions after practice Tuesday.

Footnoted



Most important Trojan practice returnee was J.R. Tavai, who didn't look like he'd suffered a sprained knee two weeks ago at Washington State as he went all-out in pass-rushing work . . . "a hardball guy," Sark said of the senior RUSH LB, "It's good to have him back." . . . Freshman safety John Plattenburg was back on the field and looking like his hamstring is ready to go . . . Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins were full-go but in yellow jerseys . . . Soma Vainuku seems clearly all the way back from his hamstring . . . USC's practice schedule has the Trojans at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday probably in helmets, shells and shorts.

For a wrapup of Tuesday's practice, check out See what USC Trojan fans are saying here


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