All eyes will be on Ronald Jones this week as USC's star freshman tailback now in his second year gets his chance to step in for the injured Justin Davis at Arizona. Last year, they were two of a kind -- both big-time threats to run the ball and run it well as each just missed hitting the 1,000-yard mark. Justin is there once again with 467 yards in six games, a 6.74 average, and 77.8 yards a game.
But Ronald, after getting his ribs banged up in the Alabama game, hasn't hit his stride even a little bit after a 46-yard run against Bama, he's totaled just 208 yards -- a 34.7 average, less than half his per-game mark last fall and good for a mere 4.5 average on 46 carries.
"I don't think he's struggling," offensive coordinator Tee Martin said. "He's just so fast, some times he hits the holes too fast . . . we may have to slow him down a bit." Or get the holes to open a bit more quickly.
That's a thought, Clay Helton seemed to be saying as he acknowledged the best way to take a home crowd out of a game, as he hopes to do for his first road win this season and first since last November at Colorado, is to be able to run the ball.
"You can bet there'll be some overcoaching between Coach [Neil] Callaway and me to get some holes open for them," he said of the trio of RoJo, Aca'Cedric Ware and Dominic Davis with the emphasis on RoJo. "I'm thinking he's ready for a breakout game. I hope it's this week."
"I wouldn't say that," RoJo said of the focus on him and breaking out. "We're trying to take first place in the Pac-12 South. It's the same game plan -- run the ball and set up the pass."
It's not about any one guy, RoJo said. It's about the team.
"No one can stop us so far," quarterback Sam Darnold said, "if we don't stop ourselves."
Banner getting back
Zach Banner said he really tried to get back in the game two weeks ago against Arizona State "but Coach Helton pulled me in his office" after the pre-game and said he wasn't ready and wasn't going to go. "I tried to talk him into it," he said, "I begged him . . . but Coach Helton was protecting me." So last week, Zach knew he wasn't back yet, a 340-pound guy trying to get it done on a bad ankle, so he didn't protest as much. Now he thinks he's close to being ready. "It hurt not being out there but I think it was good for the program."
Zach said he credits Jordan Simmons, with "his guard body" and Chuma Edoga for stepping in at the last minute. "They played phenomenal football," he said, "we won two games because of them." The fun this week, Zach said, will be getting to block for a scrambling Darnold, who keeps the play alive. "It's a unique experience," he said. As to how that will work, Clay said if Zach is all the way back, he starts. But expecting that after being out the better part of three weeks may not be realistic. The most likely scenario, Clay said, would be to rotate all three players at Arizona.
With his tight ends Tyler Petite and Daniel Imatorbhebhe already having started post-practice interviews, John Baxter called over urgently: "Get in the drill with the others," as he pointed to the ball security drills with the spring-loaded and padded machine with arms that players run through and they hotfooted it over there. Then Baxter realized he'd broken up their interviews and promised that they'd be right back -- and they were . . . Darnold said he jumped into the drill and has made a mental and physical note that he can no longer run with the ball down at his waist as he did in high school but that it has to be up high, the point at his shoulder, with both hands holding it and both arms protecting it . . . Clay acknowledged Arizona injuries make it uncertain which of three quarterbacks or a trio of running backs USC can expect to see but whoever it is will be able to run the ball, especially at QB . . . Said no one runs the RPO [run/pass option] better than Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez with his speedy wide receiver pair. . . TE Taylor McNamara out in full gear but mostly watching at the start with his lower back strain that is complicated by a quad pull . . . Petite and Imatorbhebhe were at TE with the first two teams . . Sr LB Jabari Ruffin back in full pads and apparently through his concussion protocol . . . Starting nickel Jonathan Lockett missed some of the first half of practice with a sprained shoulder from Saturday but finished with the first D the second half of practice . . . RFr S Ykili Ross another back who was full go today . . . No Davis, out for several weeks at least with a high ankle sprain although all Clay would say is that the senior tailback is "probably not going to play" this week . . . Sr. LB Michael Hutchings was limited with a bruised shoulder . . S ILB John Houston is back after a knee issue . . . For more play-by-play on today's practice, check out TUESDAY ARIZONA WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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