Taking the short week in stride

Freshman running back Ronald Jones' arrival makes life a lot easier for a USC team that wants to run the ball and control the clock.

Just another week for the Trojans to step up and handle what's been thrown their way in 2015. So now they start back-to-back road trips late in the season. But that's hardly the end of this week's challenges.

Friday's game at Colorado (6 p.m., ESPN) lines up with lots of little hurdles for USC. It's a short week. And a travel week.

You'd think the schedulers would figure out a way that if they're going to give you a short week, they also would not give you a travel week which shortens the week by another day.

But in the Pac-12, more so than in any of the other Power Five conferences, you also have real climate/weather issues. If you were going to give a team both a short week and a travel week, you probably shouldn't also give that team -- if it's a warm weather team, a trip to a late season cold weather state.

And you surely wouldn't make it a night game late in the season. Friday at Boulder will be in the mid-to-upper 40's during the day but down around 31 by game's end. Coincidentally, those are almost exactly the conditions in South Bend for Notre Dame.

And finally, you wouldn't schedule the game in a place that's a mile high with a little less oxygen in the cold, dry air. Not if you didn't want to further disadvantage the visiting team.

But USC has to handle all five potential negatives this week. And then next week, there's another trip to a cold weather/bad weather place as the Trojans head off to Eugene, Ore. Again, you'd like to think the Pac-12 could figure out a way to get more late season games in the warm weather states and the early games in the northern climes.

Not that this is a problem for these Trojans, they say. Cody Kessler points out that he's from Bakersfield and "it was in the 20's and 30's for playoff games in high school . . . and I've played in the cold at Colorado before."

Indeed, the 29 degrees for the Nov. 23 kickoff at Colorado in 2013 was the second-coldest start ever for a USC game and the Trojans scored 47 points behind Cody that night. "We're going early Thursday to get used to it," he said.

"It's more of a mental thing than anything," running backs coach Johnny Nansen said of the ball security issues posed there. "You just don't let weather be a factor . . . the Notre Dame game helps there."

So does having a veteran quarterback, Clay Helton said, emphasizing the advantage of having "a fifth-year senior" like Cody, "playing at a high level . . . and protecting the ball."

Ronald taking it in stride


Two days after shattering the USC freshman single-game rushing record by 37 yards, Ronald Jones II was talking about how the McKinney, Tex. kid ended up at USC. He grew up as a USC fan.

"I followed USC and Reggie Bush," Ronald said, just one of many Trojan recruits over the years to say that even if he was only eight or nine at the time. But no way would he put himself in Reggie's class, he said, despite surpassing every running back ever as a Trojan freshman.

"Naw, nobody has his footwork and acceleration," said Jones, whose best hand-timed 40-yard dash is a 4.41, he said. But it's not just his speed that separates him from the pack.

It's the explosive acceleration from his feet up that allows him to -- as Helton says -- "just keep running." Helton calls it his "horse kick," something Jones had never heard back in Texas.

"It's just a natural thing he's got," Nansen said. "He never stops his feet . . . and that makes him tough to bring down."

And catching that touchdown pass against Arizona makes it tougher for his running back buddies "to make fun of me," Ronald said after a high school career where "all they did was hand off to him," according to Nansen.

But Ronald makes the case that he started out as a corner back "and I had a couple of interceptions," he says even if his Trojan buds don't believe him. But they switched him over as a sophomore and that was it.

His adjustment to life in Southern California is going well, he says -- "other than the food." Although in the food area, he says "5 Guys" burgers are pretty good," even if they're not his favorite Whataburgers. And he likes The Buffalo Spot in Long Beach for barbecue, wings and ribs.

Getting them 'special' again


"We can do better," Helton says simply about USC's special teams that had little to show for the Arizona game with missed field goals, short punts, not much in the way of returns and after the kickoff coverage team had gone so well for so much of the year, it allowed a 56-yard return that almost broke for a TD.

"The kickoff team has been phenomenal except for that one time," Helton says, "and we're so close to breaking a punt return, I can't stand it . . . [No.] 2's going to get one, maybe this week."

"They're not giving No. 2 a chance," said Nansen, in charge of the special teams. "We're seeing new things every week [the way teams are trying to contain Adoree' Jackson. They're not kicking to us. They're saying: 'We're not kicking to No. 2'."

MONDAY QUICK HITS: Big news Monday was that AD Pat Haden, after missing the last four USC football games including Saturday's Homecoming, was here at practice. He started by chatting up Jake Olson on the sideline during team calisthenics and then catching up with senior associate AD's J.K. McKay and Steve Lopes and looked good after reports of his health issues affecting him in recent weeks. The last time Pat was at practice was Notre Dame week . . . "No pads November," is how Su'a Cravens kiddingly is calling these practices as the season winds down . . . just shorts, shoulder pads and helmets Monday for a practice that would normally be "Competition Tuesday" for a Saturday game . . . with Friday night's game at Boulder, USC moves the weekly practice schedule up a day so no Monday off . . . one surprise here: freshman LB Cameron Smith is in pads even though he has yet to be cleared and wouldn't be until a precautionary MRI later in the day . . . Said there'd be no contact for Cameron until then and all contact would be managed carefully the rest of the week . . . Smith did have one of those wraps that restricts arm movement a bit in his right arm but Helton said he expects him to play . . . Lots of work as a result for senior inside guys Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao who have been performing well in games in recent weeks . . . Su'a's lacerated thumb well protected with a bandage and his reps also monitored . . . Juju Smith-Schuster also kept out of contact but did manage to do everything else without a problem, it seemed . . . Claude Pelon after his extensive play Saturday looked like his knee was no worse for the wear and looked active and athletic . . . Defensive backs Leon McQuay and Jonathan Lockett both back in pads and in varying degrees, getting back up to speed after missing Saturday's game . . . live punt block today had Olajuwon Tucker getting one and Quinton Powell again scooping it and scoring . . . Tre Madden will get more work this week after getting no carries Saturday after a lost ball on a handoff exchange early . . . but he has to get himself healthy, USC coaches say, so he can be on the field at the end of games as he was at Cal.

CHECK THIS OUT: For Monday's practice report, check out MONDAY BUFFS WEEK GHOST NOTES.

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


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