When Stevie Tu'ikolovatu learned that USC was going to the Rose Bowl, he couldn't celebrate, he said after Wednesday's second official Rose Bowl workout. "I couldn't get too excited, I was in church."
But he was "updating my ipad regularly," said the grad student nose tackle transfer from Utah who has made such a difference in the USC defense this year . . . "for the scriptures."
And there it was. USC vs. Penn State in Pasadena.
"I remember watching the Stanford-Iowa game last year wishing I could be there -- and now it's here," Stevie said. And now the 25-year-old is both here and will soon be there -- for two straight games in the Rose Bowl to finish out his college career.
But it's not a complete surprise, Stevie says, for the 9-3 Trojans, No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff rankings.
"We knew after Utah we weren't going to lose any more, you could feel it in the locker room," he said of USC's closing eight-game win streak including victories over the two teams in the Pac-12 Championship Game -- Colorado and Washington.
"There was a silent commitment that we were not going to lose," Stevie said after staying on the field an extra 15 minutes hitting the one-man sled.
Senior inside linebacker Quinton Powell was just happy to be back after having to miss Tuesday's return to the practice field for exams. "Of course I missed it, that was a bummer," Powell said. "But I did watch it [on video]. It was pretty intense. It's fun to see everybody having fun"
Matching up with Penn State's offense is the fun part of this for Powell, ticking off in order, the way he sees the threats -- "the quarterback, the running back and the big tight end," he says, no numbers or names, just 1-2-3, here they are.
For the slim 6-foot-2, 200-pound Powell at his inside linebacker spot, that "big tight end" has his attention with defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast calling Penn State's Mike Gesicki "a big play guy," saying the 6-foot-6, 252-pounder may be the best tight end USC will face all season.
But that's not the biggest problem here. It's the way Penn State's offense isn't like any other USC has faced. "They're unique," Clancy said. "They take a lot of shots down the field." And from almost anywhere on the field.
Lots of explosive plays, Clancy agreed to the suggestion about what makes PSU unique. So even though he wasn't about to "give you my game plan," Clancy did volunteer this.
And no, he didn't tip off how exactly he plans to do it in ways that often leave teams saying that USC took something away from their offense and did so in a way they hadn't seen USC do before. So here's Clancy's approach to Penn State in a nutshell: "Eliminate their explosive plays."
And yes, with USC practicing as if they play Penn State Saturday, Clancy said he's watched all the film and done the analysis and pretty much has the game plan ready to go and will have it in by early next week at the latest. "Although I spent most of the time looking at us," and what USC needs to do better.
One thing he knows: USC will have to contain quarterback Trace McSorley and not let him out of the pocket. Both Clancy and Clay noted how McSorley was Penn State's second-leading rusher and he has their attention. Having had to chase Sam Darnold around in August and September helped, he said. "But I don't get him much now." he says.
To NFL or not to NFL
Tuesday it was JuJu Smith-Schuster talking about how he was holding off thinking about leaving early for the NFL until after the Rose Bowl. Wednesday it was Adoree' Jackson, speaking for the defense. Although the quick-on-his-feet Adoree' was too slippery to have to handle much. "Mock draft?" he responded to a question. "What's a mock draft . . . who does those?" So not much there.
"When I finish the bowl game," he said a couple of times. Then it'll be time to listen to "myself, my parents, God, my coaches," not necessarily in that order. "I really haven't thought about it," the consensus first team All-American and Thorpe ward winner said.
But essentially it will come down to this: "It's what's best fo rme," he said. It's not about track. If he comes back, "my focus will be on football," he says. "Although I'll jump if they need me. And when you say how about the Heisman, he adds to that, "and a national championship." And if you wonder what about coming back to play more offense, he says he "did a lot of offense last year -- 90 plays a game," and that wasn't something he'd ever want to do again. As to focusing on offense over defense, he says the NFL can see how he did on offense when he got the chance.
"That doesn't go away," Adoree' said.
Helton says he'll be there to help and that they've already filed for the papers for the NFL Draft evaluations for JuJu and Adoree'. "You're only allowed five," Clay says although he wouldn't say who the others would be. if they need more, Clay says they'll get the info from the individual teams. "I'll treat them like they were my own son," he says when it comes to the advice he'll offer them.
"If they choose to stay, you're happy as heck. If they choose to leave, you're happy for them and help them pack their bags." Two years ago, when it was Leonard Williams, a certain Top 15 pick who might have not minded staying at USC, there was no decision to be made, Clay said. "You pack his bags even though he might have wanted to stay."
At the same time, there was Buck Allen, Clay said. "He had his degree. Each case is individual . . . You make sure he does what's best for him and his family. Going was the best thing for Buck to do."
Nathan Smith's MRI revealed the rangy offensive tackle from Murrieta did suffer a torn ACL Tuesday and will get surgery as soon as possible in order to have a chance to be back by next September. He's been getting lots of chances to show what he can do and is clearly in USC's plans for next season with both starting tackles graduating . . . He joins DB Jonathan Lockett who will undergo hip surgery Friday . . . Porter Gustin says it's hard to tell who's more excited about being in the Rose Bowl -- his parents or him. "It's close," the 6-foot-5, 270-pound outside linebacker says. What's not close are his defensive skills at the end of his sophomore season compared to the first game against Alabama. "I'm a lot better," he says matter-of-factly, "at everything -- reading the offense, knowing what''s coming, the pass rush, using my hands." The reason for using your hands, he says, "is to get their hands off you." Can't let those big offensive tackles do that . . . Asked for any specifics about the departure of sophomore D-lineman Noah Jefferson, all Clay would say was that "We wish Noah nothing but the best for the kid's sake and he's not going to be with us next season" . . . David Sills, who committed to USC and Lane Kiffin as an eighth-grade quarterback, then went to West Virginia as a wide receiver before spending this past year at El Camino College trying to become a quarterback, has returned to WVU as a senior wide receiver . . . And yes, Clay said he did catch up with Lane to congratulate him on the Florida Atlantic job. Said he texted Lane and Lane called him back with Clay saying "I owe him a lot for bringing me here" . . . For more play-by-play from Wednesday's practice, go to WEDNESDAY ROSE BOWL PREP GHOST NOTES.
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