LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California needs a break, and the timing couldn’t be better for coach Steve Sarkisian.
Sarkisian is giving the Trojans this week off from practice, and they will reconvene Saturday to begin preparations for their Nov. 13 game against California. In the meantime, the focus is on recovering from a taxing season that began with the suspension of team captain Josh Shaw and included a split of four conference games decided on the final possession.
”I think we need to take a step back mentally, physically, emotionally. To me, it felt like the right thing to do,” Sarkisian said.
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Instead, there will be a strong emphasis on rehabilitation for USC to bolster its numbers heading into a closing stretch that includes rivals UCLA and Notre Dame. USC brought only 48 recruited scholarship players for its 44-17 win at Washington State before losing linebacker Su’a Cravens to a knee injury.
Tests revealed no structural damage, and Sarkisian was optimistic Cravens would be available against the Golden Bears.
Having transitioned from safety to linebacker in his sophomore season, Cravens has established himself as one of the team’s most indispensable defenders. He leads the team with 12 1/2 tackles for loss and two interceptions, but it is the versatility Cravens provides that sets him apart.
”You want players that can play and do multiple things, and Su’a is a primary example of that,” Sarkisian said. ”One week he can play the run, the second he can be a blitzer coming off the edge, the next he is in a nickel role covering slot receivers.”
The loss of Cravens exposed the lack of depth resulting from NCAA sanctions handed down in the Reggie Bush case. Walk-on Matt Lopes, whose father is a senior associate athletic director at USC, replaced Cravens and had three tackles.
Defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. played outside linebacker against the Cougars, while lightly used reserves Charles Burks and Quinton Powell also saw snaps there.
And while USC will be able to bring in a full recruiting class next year to begin to address areas of weakness on the roster, Sarkisian said getting contributions from everyone that can play is of the utmost importance this season.
”It was awesome to see more guys get involved in the game,” Sarkisian said. ”On our team right now it is critical that everybody has a role, that we continue to find ways to get people involved and keep them involved.”
Sarkisian indicated that other injured players, such as fullback and special teams ace Soma Vainuku, outside linebacker J. R. Tavai, and wide receiver Ajene Harris, would return against Cal.
As for the status of Shaw, who was suspended after lying about how he sprained both ankles before the season started, Sarkisian said there was no change.
”It’s still in a process,” Sarkisian said. ”It hasn’t gotten to a point where I (can) make a decision one way or the other.”