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USC o-line trying to move forward; Mama with advantage at left guard

USC's offensive line is trying to move on from the season opener and it could have a new starter at left guard after Damien Mama commandeered the position after halftime Saturday.

Moving forward is a vital element of a good offensive line. That's what the USC Trojans front-line unit will try to do after a 52-6 beatdown at the hands of the defending national champions.

It was an inglorious performance for everyone involved, but particularly so for the offensive line. The big boys up front were bruised, beaten and battered both mentally and physically.

Alabama was able to get consistent pressure with four rushers, allowing them to play two safeties deep over the top. It bracketed USC star receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, forcing someone else to beat them and no one did.

That meant it was time to go back to the basics. On Tuesday, USC focused on coming off the ball fast and hard and being physical in the run game.

Everyone has taken their pound of flesh from the offensive linemen this week. Now they’re back on the grind to try to prove last week was an aberration rather than the norm. That performance provides this week’s driving force:

“That we're not a 52-6 team,” junior left guard Damien Mama said of their motivation. “That that scoreboard does not represent how we play. We just have to show the world.”

Mama admitted the offensive line has a lot to work on, starting with the communication aspect. There were times when defensive linemen were left unabated. There were instances when a lineman wasn’t able to double team a block and had to back off to avoid a chop block penalty because the man next to him went for a cut block unexpectedly. 

As a group, the cut blocking was woefully inadequate. The Crimson Tide defensive linemen were able to negate them with ease, stepping around or over and instantly being in the backfield.

“They’ve probably been working on cut blocks,” Mama said. “That's what we obviously noticed after the film that they had obviously worked on a lot of cut blocking. We've got to learn how to finish those.”

Finishing is where Mama saw his biggest need for improvement. “Getting in the right position and making the perfect blocks.”

Perfect blocks were unicorns against Alabama. Good blocks were endangered species. 

Stuart McNair

Jonathan Allen sacks Max Browne after going unblocked.

“I thought a little bit of assignment cues that need to be fixed,” head coach Clay Helton said. “Had a couple of physical beats, had a couple physical beats that we need to shore up. If you do those two things a couple times in a game, it's vivid.”

Lack of execution was a common refrain amongst the offensive linemen and their position coach, Neil Callaway

“For whatever reason the run game was never established on Saturday and we needed it to be,” junior right guard Viane Talamaivao said. “Point blank, we didn’t execute on Saturday.”

“We didn’t execute the way we practiced. Bottom line,” redshirt senior captain Zach Banner said.

“The way we performed offensively, we all had a part of it. We did some good things, but we had too many bad things. We’ve got to eliminate the bad things,” Callaway said. “I thought the effort was good. We’ve just got to execute better.”

“There’s a lot of little things. We’ve got to do the things I’ve been talking about all along — using your eyes, communication, being all tied together. Those are the things we’ve got to make sure we don’t have mistakes in that area.”

The continuity of the line took a hit when left tackle Chuma Edoga had to leave the game in the second quarter, forcing senior left tackle Chad Wheeler into the game despite a lingering plantar fasciitis injury. Edoga returned to practice with the first team on Tuesday, but starting center Toa Lobendahn sat out practice after having some swelling and fluid on his right knee. Lobendahn got rolled up early in the game, but played through the injury. His season ended last year when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

The Trojans also switched left guards back and forth throughout the first half against Alabama, beginning with Chris Brown and going to Mama basically every other drive. 

At halftime, the 50-50 experiment was scrapped. The coaches came to Mama in the locker room.

“They said I would play the beginning of the second half and then just go from there. That's how I take my job, just going out there and doing what coach says and doing my job.”

Last week, Mama took the first-team reps on Tuesday and Brown moved into that role on Wednesday. Mama began Tuesday’s practice with the first team, but Brown got some first-team reps as well. The position battle hasn’t been settled.

“There's definitely still competition there,” Mama said. “Just having a good player like Chris keeps me motivated and keeps him motivated I hope. It's just a good competition for the left guard position.”

Mama and Brown will continue to battle for the role while the entire offense tries to overhaul its performance, heading into a matchup with a tough mid-major program in Utah State that likes to dial up a lot of blitz packages that will put the pressure on USC to communicate better than last week.

“If there’s miscommunication or a breakdown here — a guy’s not on a right guy or whatever it may have been in certain situations — you can’t prepare for that because you just don’t know that that’s going to happen,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. “That was the case [against Alabama] a few times. 

“We’re going to make our corrections and move forward as an offense.”

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