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Getting USC back up to speed

Clancy Pendergast has his own special way to get his guys in shape and in the game now that the season is here.

Clancy Pendergast has this way, starting the second or third week of the season, of making sure his defense is in the game. So during Scout team period Wednesday, he had his first two groups on for a play or two, then sprint to the sidelines to be replaced -- or not -- by the other group that would have to sprint back out.

Good way to handle quick changes, distractions and get in some conditioning at the same time. Plenty noisy as well. While the offense is still working to get its act together after that 52-6 shellacking by Alabama with no USC touchdowns and 10 straight three-and-out series, the defense seems to be finding its voice.

"Part of it is conditioning," Clancy said. "I did it in the NFL." And now his guys were whooping it up as they scrambled full-speed back and forth to the sidelines between plays.

Looking back at the Alabama game, a mostly good effort by the USC defense with the exception of a half-dozen breakdowns, Clancy said they "got trapped in some gaps and didn't get out of there and didn't get off blocks," on the breakaway runs. "It's something that happens . . . it's unfortunate . . . we move on."

But nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu isn't so easy on himself. The 340-pound grad student generally received high marks for his effort but he graded himself "at a D-minus," he said. "I had a couple of those missed assignments," he said and one of those was that big run [Damien Harris' 73-yarder] and if I'd have held that gap, they might not have gotten it. That's a big momentum play."

That's not how Clancy saw it. "Stevie played well, used his hands well, only he played too many plays . . . we have to get some help for him," Clancy said, although that won't be all that easy with Khaliel Rodgers out with a hamstring and Noah Jefferson rehabbing a sore shoulder.

"We've got to get 11 guys out there," Clancy said, "we'll see how it works out."

Stevie, who said he'd like to play every play, "didn't know he said that," of the rest Clancy was looking for him. "Maybe they want to rest me for Stanford. We can still use Josh [Fatu] and Jacob Daniel."

"He was a force in the middle," Clay said of Stevie. USC will need him against a tough-running Utah State team Saturday (11 a.m., Pac-12 Network) in the home opener that features dual-threat quarterback Kent Myers and running back Devante Mays on a team Stevie's Utah team beat last year, he's pretty certain of. "I think we did," he said, "I know we have to watch for the quarterback draws."

One other thing this USC defense will have to avoid are the busts in the secondary that gave -- literally gave -- Alabama two free touchdowns. We've already mentioned the double blitz from safety Chris Hawkins and corner Iman Marshall from the same side that gave Bama one TD. The other came on a play where Marshall muscled the Alabama receiver, ArDarius Stewart, six yards out of bounds as the pair then watched him circle back and catch an easy 39-yard TD throw as they both signaled no catch.

"We didn't know you could do that," Chris said on learning the college rule. "That would have been an easy interception for a touchback," he said with a shake of his head. It would have been had they only kept playing. But they didn't. And they learned the hard way.

Max's media day    

With a grad school class Tuesday, Max Browne made his weekly media stop on Wednesday with one last look back at the Alabama game. Said he needed "to take advantage of the down-the-field throws that were there," and the two he missed could have been game-changers. Especially the underthrow to JuJu Smith-Schuster that drew a pass interference but no USC score. If he'd thrown it deep enough,"it would have been a touchdown and 10-0," Max said. "Not making those plays is a big momentum changer."

As to JuJu, if teams keep playing "cloud cover" on him with a corner head up and a safety shading him, "it sucks for our best player," Max said. "But if that's the case, let's make Darreus Rogers a household name."

He said watching all the mistakes on the game film, all he could think was "How did we mess that up?"

 Wednesday footnoted 

Clay talked about USC's entrance to the game from the tunnel Saturday and said when asked if his "overly excited" -- as he described them -- USC team would use that "mad-dog" choreography again. "I hope not," Clay said. "We discussed it Sunday. Good teams don't make a big deal of the pageantry. They worry about the game. It's a learning lesson for us. We're building a program and planning on being back here." And as the great NFL coach Paul Brown liked to remind his players about elaborate touchdown celebrations in the end zone, "Act like you've been there before." . . . Injury report: D-lineman Jefferson out again with that sore AC/shoulder joint they're rehabbing and he's a long shot now for Saturday . . . NT Rodgers' hamstring had him out of pads again, moving well but hatd to say . . . C Toa Lobendahn missed practice a second day with fluid in his right knee and sat out practice. He's 50-50 for Saturday . . . WR Deontay Burnett was pulled with a slight shoulder injury, Clay said . . . junior S John Plattenburg still not back at practice on concussion protocol that involves 21 different tests from light sensitivity -- even to a cellphone -- to resuming normal activities without dizziness. He's not there yet . . . Osa Masina here today and practicing, didn't see Don Hill . . . For a play-by-play on today's practice, go to WEDNESDAY UTAH STATE WEEK GHOST NOTES.


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