Getting vertical

Trojans trying to get their run game going north-south instead of east-west this week against Washington.

They're talking inside run here the last few days. Or maybe as Tre Madden likes to call it -- "getting vertical." As in "I like getting vertical as soon as possible," when he runs the ball.

It's becoming a theme, running north-south instead of east-west that happened way too much against Stanford and Arizona State.

But how to make it happen? Tre says it's "the O-line having a great push and knowing who to block.

"This week we definitely want to do that," he says, "it's a mindset we have to have -- make one crack and get what we can."

Justin Davis, the healthiest he's been all fall, says the problem is "not just the offensive line missing assignments," although that's some of it. "It's a combination of the running backs, the fullbacks and the O-line. We know we have the talent. Now we just have to get it done."

And this from USC's resident east-west running back, Davis, who says he doesn't mind "going horizontal," but he can also hit it up in there.

"I love it," Damien Mama says, "it keeps the defense on their toes," when you're coming right at them. "It's a group thing. When four guys get it right and one messes up, we all miss."

Damien, down to 340 pounds and aiming to go lower, says "the nine-on-seven drills" are really helping -- "just getting after it."

"I like it," Toa Lobendahn said of the emphasis on "the inside run game. "We do want to get vertical as soon as possible." And the more they do it, the more they get to go man on man. "I like that," Toa says.

But that's a bit of a change, as Toa describes it. "Coach Connelly wanted us to be as athletic as possible to run the stretch play," he said, thus explaining Mama's drop to 340. "But strong enough for the inside run . . . I like the challenge of doing it all."

But this week, the challenge is to get one part of it right. Run hard, push hard, go straight at 'em. Get it done. Make it happen.

The joy of JuJu

The feistiness of Sunday's upbeat competitiveness, Steve Sarkisian said, was the result of the Scout team making life difficult for the first and second groups. And that turned into the first fight of the fall as Don Hill on the Scout team planted Aca'cedric Ware after a tackle and there seemed to be an objection on both sides that ended up with roundhouse swings and grabbing and jostling from them and their teammates who joined in. No hard feelings at all, Ware said later, "We're a family."

Making that point two plays later was Juju Smith-Schuster, who after a quick catch and stop, dropped the ball and put up his dukes to two defenders. And the tension was completely gone.

"I thought about it," JuJu said of his faux fighting stance. "I thought people would say 'Didn't we just do that the last play?' "

Which is why when JuJu said, "I'm glad to be back," after missing two practices for "personal reasons" last week, he wasn't the only one. "He loves being out here," Steve Sarkisian said, "he loves his teammates."

And "When they see him having fun [after the fight], it just defuses everything," Sark said.

But it's not all fun and games for JuJu, who was in the top six nationally in three receiving categories -- touchdowns, total yards and receiving yards per game.

"I'm definitely not satisfied," he said,"I want to be the best receiver in college football."

Sark on Saturday

With all the football Sark was able to watch on Saturday in a bye week, he said he learned a lot. "Everybody's got their new top four," he said after a crazy day that made it clear to him that "there's a lot of football to be played."

And you'd better be ready: "You have to come prepared to play every game . . . you have to put your best foot forward . . . that's your challenge."

And for his players. "I like our guys to be fans of college football. I like them to watch the games."

What Sark doesn't want is for them "to be caught up in the rankings or focused on the scoreboard."

The numbers

The goal was to run 80 plays a game and USC is averaging just 66. But no biggie, Cody Kessler said. "We also want 20 percent explosive plays -- 15-yard passes and 10-yard runs -- and we're ahead there."

And if Cody can keep converting on third downs, especially when he took off and rambled for 21 yards at ASU, that will help. "If they have to put one or two guys on me to spy me -- well not exactly spy . . . " well, that couldn't hurt.

Sark wasn't worried either, "because I look at the average yards per play -- 8.1 -- we're getting yards in chunks . . . and with 10 of 16 third-downs we got up to 43 percent and if we get up to 50 percent," that will be plenty good enough.


Sunday morning's full-pads workout leaves USC with two more early morning practices to get ready for Washington in Thursday's 6 p.m. game (ESPN) at the Coliseum against the Huskies . . . CB Kevon Seymour keeps getting more work to the point there are no more questions about his knee for this week if he doesn't have another setback the next two days . . . WR Darreus Rogers did more running the end zone and looks pretty free on his hamstring . . . With Khaliel Rodgers out for a second day for "personal reasons," Lobendahn got another day to work at center with the second group while Viane Talamaivao was at right guard with the ones. Khaliel had an air connection issue, Sark said returning from his home in Delaware, and was expected back later in the afternoon . . . Plays of the day: On defense, a leaping falling-backward onehanded INT by Jabari Ruffin on a ball he tips to himself . . . On offense, Isaac Whitney on the sideline run after catch breaks a final tackle from Marvel Tell in Ones vs. Ones where the emphasis is on ball stripping and he takes advantage.

CHECK THIS OUT: For more details on Sunday's workout, check out SUNDAY UW WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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