Freshmen 1st on both sides of the ball

Cameron Smith, Ronald Jones lead Trojans after four games and only one of them is surprised about it.

Cameron Smith says to be honest, he's not all that surprised he's leading USC in tackles after four games -- despite being a true freshman at the most physical position in football -- middle linebacker.

That's how you have to think, he said. "You have to see yourself in the best place, the best scenario," he said with his 30 tackles in four games right ahead of All-American Su'a Cravens' 27.

Now if he could only get those interceptions he's getting his hands on to stay there. "Of course," he said, "it'd be awesome to add those to my stats."

Of his tackling, the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder says it's simple: "I just try to get to the ball and hold on. I'm feeling more confident with each snap."

And confident in all the other freshmen he finds himself out there with on defense. "I think the coaches feel that way too," he said. "There are still other guys [freshmen] you're going to hear from."

But to do that, this team must get better. And to get better, they need "more practices just like these last two days," Smith said, "that's exactly what we need . . . we need to get off blocks better and take on blocks better."

RJII liking the way this is going

Once again, freshman tailback Ronald Jones II led USC in rushing with 10 carries for 54 yards at Arizona State including a 22-yarder, USC's long ground gainer of the night.

Some of that he credited to "Coach Nansen and the guys," he said, for finding him his favorite Texas Whataburger in Tempe. But there was something else. On a night when USC couldn't get anything going on the ground aganst ASU's all-out blitzers, he did.

But then he was in when USC debuted its "Cowboy" formation with fullbacks in on either side of QB Cody Kessler and the ability to hit straight up in there behind a lead blocker -- or two.

"I like that formation," he said of one Steve Sarkisian said you just may see again because of the ability to get both Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner on the field when they go into it.

"Defenses can't key on it," RJII said, "and even though I ran out of shotgun in high school, I like running with the fullback blocking . . . not sure what they call it . . . oh yeah, the 'Cowboy.' " For his hometown pro team, of course.

It's been almost more than Jones expected, he said. "I'm actually playing more than I thought I would," he says of his role as USC's leading rusher after four games with 242 yards in 30 carries -- an 8.1-yard average.

"Overall, I think I'm playing well," he said, acknowledging he came here with some things to improve on. "I was right hand dominant," he said, "with pass issues . . . it's starting to slow down for me. I'm seeing things more clearly." And improving -- "pass protection and blocking," he said.

And it's being noticed. When Sark noted how the only person "I can compare [Adoree' Jackson in terms of effortlessly getting to top speed after one step] I can't say his name," he laughed at his unspoken Reggie Bush reference, and then Sark came back to that thought.

"Ronald Jones is like that too," Sark said. Mighty fine company for a freshman.

JuJu still missing . . . practice

Juju Smith-Schuster, the nation's third-leading receiver in total yards with 537, the No. 4 receiver in touchdown catches with four and the No. 6 receiver in the nation in yards per game with 134.3, missed practice for "personal reasons" for a second straight day. And there was no more information than that.

"It's personal," Sark said and "to be fair to him" as a coach if he went further than that with one of his players. Will he be back Saturday, after two days off this bye week? Sark wouldn't say. "We'll address it then," Sark said.

Adoree' on cruise control

On that 80-yard touchdown to open the game against Arizona State, Adoree' Jackson was still thinking about the play before, the screen pass he thought he could take all the way before a hand tripped him up.

And then as he went in motion, Adoree' saw "the guy who was going to stick me" get hung up inside and he knew two things: "the ball would be coming to me" and he'd probably be one-on-one with a defensive back with a whole lot of space to roam in.

"I felt I could beat him in space," Adoree' said as he cruised outside and upfield. "I was just trying to see if I was going to have to use my speed." Only he didn't.

Not to turn the corner or beat it down the sidelines untouched and then with Steven Mitchell getting out in front of him to block for him, he didn't have to turn on the jets to finish. But he would have if warranted. Asked if anyone could have stopped him with that much open field, even without a blocker, "I don't think anybody could," he said as he decided he wouldn't have to use all his speed to score.

But on Wednesday, defender Adoree' was a witness for another wide receiver, Jalen Greene, who went over and above and around him for the catch of the day. "That was just awesome, a great catch," Adoree' said, "and I told him that."


With two days off until the team returns on Saturday, USC's coaches were heading out immediately after practice for two days of "total recruiting," Sark said. "It's awesome." . . . Sark also took the moment to announce that USC had signed Oaks Christian's Michael Pittman to financial aid papers allowing him to come in for the spring semester. "He's a big, physical receiver," Sark said, and with the way things are going this season with a number of those types, "We've got to take advantage of that." . . . CB Kevon Seymour was much improved over where he was a week ago, Sark said, and after tweaking it again Tuesday, came back for more work and looked closer to being game-ready . . . NT Antwaun Woods was back and started with the first group but ended up having to ice his surgically repaired torn pec midway through practice . . . WR Darreus Rogers arrived midway through practice in shorts carrying an ice bag and moving well on his pulled hamstring . . . Dominic Davis was getting more work at wide receiver Wednesday with both Smith-Schuster and Rogers missing . . . D-line guys were working hard again on full-speed starts and 15-yard dashes early in practice . . . final two players off the field after extra work were freshman again -- CB's Isaiah Langley and for the second straight day, CB Iman Marshall, stayed the longest after practice for individual work and running . . . lots of work again for the second and third teams with players like OL Clayton Johnston, TE's Daniel Imatorbhebhe (with a terrific leaping catch), Caleb Wilson (with a long TD catch), WR Deontay Burnett (although he was with the first and second groups) and TB Stefan Smith with a TD run and on defense, DE/LB Don Hill with a couple of strong defensive plays and redshirting S Ykili Ross with one big play after another on the second and third groups.

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details on Wednesday's workout, check out WEDNESDAY UW BYE WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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