Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor
The Trojans ground out another tough, competitive practice on Saturday in preparation for their bowl game while championship games were played across the country.
- Head coach Steve Sarkisian emphasized the necessity to keep the team's "competitive juices" flowing despite still not knowing their bowl game opponent. "I don't think you can just shut that off and then expect to turn it right back on," he said, talking about the team's competitive nature.
- Sarkisian is also using these practices to see the younger players in action as well as to test out players in new roles. For example, the coaching staff felt like Chris Hawkins was "forced into action early" with Josh Shaw's suspension and freshman Adoree' Jackson still adjusting to playing at the next level. The past two days the redshirt freshman has been seeing a lot of time at safety recently coming up with a big interception in Saturday's practice that he returned for a touchdown. However, Sarkisian noted that if this move was going to be permanent, Hawkins would need to spend the offseason in the weight room to change his body in order to be physical enough to succeed as a safety.
- RB Justin Davis is another player whose number has been called a lot recently with the sophomore getting 19 carries for 81 yards in the Trojans' regular season finale against Notre Dame. Sarkisian credited Davis' recent success to his emphasis on holding onto the football. "The ball was coming out too frequently for my liking but we didn't give up on him. We put him right back in because we have to develop confidence that's part of our job," said the head coach.
- Justin Davis could be getting even more reps next year if redshirt junior RB Buck Allen decides to enter the NFL Draft. However, this is a decision that Allen and other draft-elligible Trojans have yet to even consider saying their only focus is on USC's bowl game. Sarkisian met with all draft-elligible players this week stressing "educated decisions" but both Allen and QB Cody Kessler have said they will apply for an evaluation just to see where they rank.
- This week Kessler was named a Manning Award finalist for the nation's best quarterback after finishing the regular season with 3505 yards on 413 attempts with a completion percentage of 70.7 percent. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton has been working with Kessler on his anticipation hoping to get the ball out of his hands quicker in order to help a young offensive line that's been hit hard this season. This also means focusing on knowing where his targets will be so that he can hit them that much quicker - something Kessler says comes with more reps especially with new starters like JuJu Smith and George Farmer.
- Injury report: Freshman WR JuJu Smith rolled his ankle at Friday's practice so he sat out on Saturday; however, Sarkisian said it is not concerning at all. They just want to get him healthy in time for bowl game preparation.
- The Trojans had quite the number of visitors to practice on Saturday with the recruiting season in full force. Sarkisian said he's been enjoying the process a little more so than last year because they have more time now that he is finishing his first season as the USC head coach. "We have a few more spots than we have had so we have a few more visitors then we have had," said Sarkisian. "Last year we felt like we were rushing a little bit because we came in late. This time around we were able to cast a bigger net but that means we've got more people to evaluate and more relationships to forge."
- Here is the head coach after Saturday's practice...