They're trying to make USC's Trojans "comfortable with being uncomfortable" this weekend at what will be a raucous Husky Stadium in every way they can -- sirens, threatening dog sounds, screams and just plain good old crowd noises. Oh and some soaked footballs, too, as well as the players who handle them.
"A great opportunity," Sam Darnold chirped in. Actually the redshirt freshman quarterback has been there before, his first start in a "blackout" at Utah that had all the requisite conditions -- loud, crazy crowd, wet weather and extremely motivated home team.
The Trojans came up a bit short that night -- 16 seconds to be exact, with three turnovers and untimely penalties depriving USC of a couple of game-deciding scores. Thus the approach heading to Seattle. Get comfortable in conditions that won't be as favorable as they've been in the five-game win streak for the 6-3 Trojans' (4-2 in the Pac-12).
That's when you turn to senior leadership. Two of them take center stage this week. Leading ball-carrier Justin Davis is hoping to be able to return on a high ankle sprain that has had him out the last three wins. And Tacoma-native Zach Banner is heading home to play against the program he turned his back on and where his father, Lincoln Kennedy, was both an All-American and a Husky broadcaster.
"I'm excited but they're not going to treat me as a home crowd," Zach said. He'll have "40 to 50 people there" out of the 77,000 or so who mostly will not be rooting for their native son's return. "Some people still hold that against me."
But except for going back to Ezell's Chicken and to Dick's Burgers, both highly recommended by Zach, he doesn't think he turned his back on Husky football. "I grew up as a Seahawks fan," he says, and as a two-sport star, the 6-foot-9, 345-pounder was much more involved with Husky basketball players from his summer teams and not so much with a college football connection.
So despite "the 373 hours of community service" Zach put in as a high school senior in Tacoma, he knows these folks will not be happy with him. It definitely adds to the emotional component of this week as Zach was coming off a Tuesday scuffle and shouting match with freshman Oluwole Betiku in a pass rush drill followed by a quick dressing down from O-line coach Neil Callaway whose multiple "Zach, shut up," calls finished off a helmet-throwing mini-rant by Zach.
And while Clay Helton sat down with Justin to talk about this week, Zach's talk is still coming. "I haven't done that yet," Clay said with a big grin Tuesday. "It's something we will do." And something Clay says will work out fine for a USC team that must show up and play error-free and penalty-free football against the efficient and high-flying Huskies. Since returning from an injury that cost Zach a couple of games, Clay said, "He's played like a pro."
Now he has to act like one. Watching Justin Davis on his return would be a great place to start. Justin, USC's dependable workhorse who can run it, catch it and block for whoever else is doing those things, has talked to Clay about how this week should go.
"I told Coach I'm coming back from an injury and RoJo's coming off two fantastic games," Justin said of the back-to-back games against Cal and Oregon where Ronald Johnson ran for the most yardage (394) of any USC back in two straight games since Reggie Bush in 2005. And his four rushing TDs against Oregon were the first since LenDale White did it -- again in 2005. Pretty special company for the sophomore speedster from Texas. Justin says he does not want to get in the way of that.
That's a theme for Justin, who has been the counselor for his younger teammates, especially RoJo when he was struggling early this season. "Young players sometimes doubt themselves," Justin told of his advice to RoJo. "I told him you've got to trust your ability."
And there's plenty of that. Contrasting himself with Ronald, who "can catch the ball out of the backfield now" like he can, Justin said the difference really comes when RoJo has the ball in his hands. It's something Justin says he picked up on this last month as a spectator.
"When I'm running the ball and I see a hole," well, the basic thing Justin said he does is patiently wait for it to widen, or see exactly where it opens and then get through it. Ronald doesn't have to do that.
"With Ronald, no matter how small the hole, it just doesn't matter," Justin says. "You know he's going to get through it. His acceleration is unreal." It's that hole "Texas Tesla" thing. Smooth and exceptionally quick.
It's why Justin does not want to get in the way even as he says "I'm a senior. I have three games left." And he's rehabbed hard. "Rehab is harder than practice," he says. "My ankle is fully healed but it's a matter of me trusting it."
He already trusts his teammates, Justin says.
Justin Davis said the election day talk and good-natured arguments in the locker room were fun to be a part of. "We don't know much about politics, we don't have time, Justin said, but some of his teammates like to talk, he said. "I was just laying back while people argued." . . . No talk after practice of the new College Football Playoffs rankings that came out during the workout but the Trojans were elevated to No. 20 while the Huskies moved up to the coveted No. 4 and final playoff spot so this game becomes a really big deal for the Pac-12 . . . For the injury report, both Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and Damien Mama were held out of Tuesday's practice with knee issues. Stevie's we knew about, a PCL sprain. Damien's injury we just learned about when he was held out Tuesday after getting hit on the knee in Saturday's Oregon game . . . Michael Hutchings, Leon McQuay and John Houston who all came out of that game with a bump or bruise here or there all practiced Tuesday with no issues . . . Iman Marshall was held out with a hamstring issue but in pads just did no team work . . . For more play-by-play for Tuesday's practice, go to TUESDAY WASHINGTON WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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