"Coming off a week where he was barely able to practice and unable to play because of the flu, USC sophomore safety John Plattenburg lost his starting spot leading up to the game against California. Leon McQuay III had played well against Utah and earned the nod over Plattenburg.
"Plattenburg sensed it.
"It was really practice that week…I was running with the second team, but I studied the offense like I was going to play. Just preparation and if they did me I was ready.”
They didn’t need him. Plattenburg didn’t play a single defensive snap against Cal. For the first time this season, he was a healthy scratch on defense. Plattenburg had been benched.
“Every week, you’ve got to earn your playing time,” defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said this week. “You’ve seen guys being rotated in and out. That’s the way it has to be. No one is going to be set just to start every time. You have to practice well in order to play and you have to be healthy.
“It’s been that way ever since last year. Gerald Bowman missed a practice, a couple, a whole week of practice because of a knee. He thought he was going to just not practice and then play in the game. He didn’t even travel. You have to practice in order to play.”
Plattenburg could have pouted about not getting more opportunities. Instead, he seized the one he was given on special teams.
“I was put on kickoff team and really just took that as my tool to show them that I’m here. Don’t put be on the back burner. I’m here. I’ll do my job and make plays however possible and contribute to the team. And that’s really how I took it.
“I felt great about my team. I was right there on the sidelines cheering the defense on. It’s just being bigger than you and that’s a big thing for me. I want to see my team successful. In order to do that, I’ve got to do whatever they need me to do.”
For that week, Plattenburg’s role was just on special teams, but soon he was back in the lineup after McQuay III sprained his knee while blocking a punt in practice on Tuesday. With super walk-on Matt Lopes, the only other viable safety option, Plattenburg was likely to play, but how much was not guaranteed.
But he proved himself to Heyward in practice and emerged with the starting role once again. One challenge was over, but there was still the game against the spread option attack of Arizona. That’s where Plattenburg truly made his mark, changing the entire complexion of the game with a second quarter interception. Arizona was on the precipice of potentially running away with the game. The Wildcats led 14-3 and were driving. They were on the 21-yard line when the tight end ran a vertical route against a Cover-4 Trojan defense.
“Really just staying disciplined,” Plattenburg said while describing the play. “I kind of baited it a little bit and luckily enough, I don’t know why, [the tight end] turned the other way. My eyes were still on the ball. God is good. I was right there and taking it.”
Plattenburg returned the ball to the 28-yard line before slipping down. One play later, USC had reversed the course as Cody Kessler connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for a long touchdown pass to make it 14-10 rather than the potential 21-3 it could have been without Plattenburg’s play.
Clay Helton called it one of the two “key plays of the game that really, I thought, turned the tide and turned the momentum.”
Later in the game, Plattenburg had another big play that may have gone a bit overlooked as he saved a touchdown on special teams, chasing down a kick returner from behind right after USC had scored to go up 31-23. Instead of creating the momentum, he had kept Arizona from stealing it. After a sack and two incompletions, the Wildcats were forced to punt.
Plattenburg finished the game with eight tackles — tying Su’a Cravens for the team high and tying himself for a personal career high. Instead of getting down after being demoted, Plattenburg showed his mettle and went from zero defensive plays to a season-high 64 against Arizona.
“That’s a testament to him that he hung in there and didn’t get down mentally because some guys will get down. A freshmen would get down and think ‘Hey what’s going on?’ But he’s a sophomore. He saw it last year. And he knows. Platt’s doing a good job. He never complains. He fights. And he’s still working to get better.”