After missing two games during his redshirt senior year, USC right tackle Zach Banner wanted to be on the field as much as possible.
In the fourth quarter of the Trojans’ 48-14 win at Arizona, there was Banner sneaking his way back onto the field as much as it is actually possible to sneak when you are 6-foot-9, 360 pounds. The rest of the USC starters were already chumming it up on the sidelines. A few had already began icing their bumps and bruises. Some were already out of their cleats.
But Banner was on the field with backups, helping clear the path for third string running back Aca'Cedric Ware to push over 100 yards rushing with back-to-back big runs, cutting off 37 yards followed by a 21-yard touchdown run to score the final points of the game.
“Coach [Clay] Helton got mad because he didn't know that I was still in,” Banner said. “I understand that I've got to do whatever for my team. Being in snap to snap, that's what I expect to do until coach pulls me out. Then I'll smile and enjoy the win with my team.”
"I really felt good to be honest," Banner said assessing his ankle. "No pain, no weakness. All credit goes to hours put in rehab."
Even if Helton was upset about Banner still being in the lineup, he had a big smile when the offense returned to the sideline after the score and singled out Banner for blowing open a hole for Ware. Banner’s big blocks were a continuation of what USC’s big boys in the trenches had done all day.
“I have to give credit to the offensive line, we challenged this group to dominate this game,” Helton said during his post-game presser. “We asked them to come out with a chip on their shoulder and control this game. They gave up zero sacks and rushed the ball for 320. I thought it was a really dominant performance by them.”
The Trojans had three running backs rush for more than 75 yards and quarterback Sam Darnold added another 54 on the ground.
“We got a good stable of running backs. Can't take anything away from them, but the offensive line stepped up today,” Banner said. “We had a challenge of dominating and going up front, playing a very awkward, shifting, moving team. We took advantage of a lot of things and we did good up front. We opened the holes for them, so I couldn't be more proud of our guys.”
USC shifted a number of linemen in and out throughout the game to combat the heat that was said to be 137 degrees on the field at its hottest Saturday afternoon. The Trojans’ depth showed as there was no decline in production despite the Trojans possibly not having “the same offensive line front at all for back-to-back series,” according to Banner.
The progression of the group under offensive line coach Neil Callaway has also been evident from the offensive numbers the last three games to the lack of pre-snap penalties. Against Stanford, USC had six false start penalties. Facing a constantly moving and shifting Arizona defensive line that caused Utah to commit eight false starts at home in the first half last week, the Trojans offensive line didn’t commit a single false start.
“You've got to give props to Coach Callaway because we practiced the shifts and we practiced all of that this week, so we wouldn't jump,” Banner said. “We did a lot of good things with the cadence. Our camaraderie with each other is awesome. Sometimes we don't even need to make calls to understand what we're all going to do.”
Watch Zach Banner, above, talk about the running game's success against Arizona and the progression of the offensive line this season.
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