Michael Hutchings wouldn't say that his Washington game was his best ever at USC despite a team-high nine tackles Saturday that saw the senior middle linebacker from De La Salle making plays all over the field.
"But it was the most fun I ever had at USC," he said. Beating that team in that stadium in front of that crowd in a game that meant that much, yeah, that was some kind of fun.
And now, a season that started out so badly has a chance to finish up on more than a positive note. Although Michael said, unlike his coach, he'll wait until after the USC-UCLA game late Saturday night to check on what happened with the Colorado and Utah games that could determine USC's Pac-12 fate.
"I'll look at them after the game," he says, "and keep a close eye on them then."
Not Clay Helton. "I'll be keeping one eye on them," in real time, he admitted of the Colorado-Washington State and Oregon-Utah games that start right before and after noon and will be concluded well before USC kicks off. If both Colorado and Utah win, it's over for the Trojans. "They're stronger men than I am," he says of his players who aren't going to look.
Not that that will change USC's approach, Clay says. Win out against UCLA and Notre Dame and USC finishes up 9-3 on an eight-game win streak with a win over Washington and Colorado and the closest of losses to Utah. And whichever one of those moves on to the Pac-12 Championship game if USC doesn't could also lose after playing one another next week so each could have an extra loss. And the Trojans could finish in the CFP Top 10 and in a New Year's Day Bowl anyway.
"We have a job to do, that's what I'm selling them," Clay says, and that's to show up and beat UCLA. He says he "appreciates the older leadership on this team." But he appreciates something else.
"You can see how fast they're playing on the practice field . . . we're basically going against each other late in the year," he said, with a de-emphasis the last two days on going against the Scout team and going "goods against goods," as redshirt junior Chris Hawkins explained it, "there's no Scout team. We're one team . . . and we know we're a good team. But we have to prepare well."
No question these last two practices ended up on a highly competitive note with the Ones and Twos competing. "They love the competitive aspect of it and the speed of it. It works well for us," Clay said. "The kids were asking me today if we were going to do it again." They were.
But there's something else that these kids are up for. Zach Banner talked about it Tuesday. And Michael said it today. If there's one thing that's changed the way this team is approaching the game, "It was after Alabama," Michael said, and they came back and evaluated how far they were from where they wanted to be and the one thing they could do on their own was to get into the film room.
"The guys on the defense, on their own, do a great job in the film room," Michael said.
Clay validated that, referencing the limit of 20 hours football/team requirements each week, so "you preach it to them since you only get so many hours . . . But credit the kids. They do a great job," said Clay, who said he can "hear the defensive guys in the film room calling out the offenses each week."
"It's helped with a lot of guys going in on their own," Porter Gustin said. One way that really helps preparation, the defensive players say, is the way it helps them get through the teaching portion of practice so much quicker and mistake-free when Clancy Pendergast breaks it down for all three levels of the defense.
'You can see it on the practice field," Michael said. "Every day we get better."
A number of Trojan alums at practice Wednesday starting with USC and Rams QB Jim Hardy, who drives in every week from Palm Springs at the age of 93, the oldest living ex-Ram and one of the oldest living Trojans . . . Also here were All-American Shaun Cody, who does the postgame radio show, and in a golf cart with AD Lynn Swann was Al Cowlings along with USC alum and major donor Wayne Hughes . . . For the injury report, D-lineman Josh Fatu did not practice and he's 50-50 at best to be back Thursday with an ankle sprain . . . DB Jonathan Lockett was out in pads and running sprints on his hip flexor injury and close to being back but did not get into the team sessions . . . nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu was in gear and going fast Wednesday while Deontay Burnett, who tweaked his sprained knee a bit Tuesday, was held out of practice Wednesday . . . everybody else, including Iman Marshall and Justin Davis look like they're good to go for Saturday . . . For more play-by-play from Tuesday's practice, go to WEDNESDAY UCLA WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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