NCAA sanctions have taken their toll on the program, costing 30 scholarships over the past three years, yet no one could have expected the dramatic drop in depth that has taken place over the past few days of practice.
Interim head coach Ed Orgeron announced Wednesday afternoon that Lamar Dawson would be joining freshman running back Justin Davis as the latest major contributors to be sidelined for the year.
These recent injuries add to the growing list of Trojans that have fallen to the injury bug in the past few days of practice, all beginning back when offensive guard Jordan Simmons injured his knee on Monday. Matters only stacked up for the worst as 17-year-old running back Justin Davis, safety Gerald Bowman and running back D.J. Morgan were also ruled out for the season.
All my focus right now is on coming back faster and stronger for my team next year— Justin Davis (@JD_22bsm) October 24, 2013
Now down to three tailbacks, two wide receivers (Darreus Rogers and De'Von Flourney) and zero scholarship tight ends to work with, times call for desperate measures.
Wake Forest transfer Chris Willson and converted DE Kevin Greene have received reps at tight end, while walk-on WR's Robbie Kolanz, George Katrib and Aaron Minor also worked with the first team. Among the many marquee Trojans sitting out from practice were Morgan Breslin, Marqise Lee, Nelson Agholor and Anthony Brown.
This laundry list of injuries comes at a crucial point in the season, as the team sits two games out of first in the Pac-12 South, especially when the team rests just one game over .500 and needing every win they can get to become bowl-eligible.
Slight improvement in USC practice attendance, with 11 missing. No Marqise Lee or Nelson Agholor— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) October 24, 2013
After being forced to only use 48 scholarship players against Notre Dame, interim head coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron admitted that "we should have had a backup plan," speaking in regards to the five scholarships spots USC did not utilize during recruiting sessions, four of which Lane Kiffin gave to walk-on seniors.
Despite the slew of injuries on both sides of the ball, Coach Orgeron remains confident that players will step up to the plate against an up-start Utah squad that has already defeated Stanford earlier this season.
To better handle some of the major depth issues at the cornerback position, Orgeron says Josh Shaw will switch back to cornerback after playing most of the season at safety. That opens up a starting position for freshman Leon McQuay, who Orgeron announced will start this weekend against Utah.
"We really struggled in the cornerback position, and when he was there we did not really struggle," said Orgeron, while discussion the move for his quarterback of the defense, adding "It's a week by week thing, it all depends on the offenses."
All that being said, help is coming. Running back Tre Madden did return to practice today in a non-contact role, while freshman WR Darreus Rogers and fifth-year senior De'Von Flourney made some excellent plays during team period offense.
The hits keep on coming, but Orgeron remains firm in his conviction "one team, one heartbeat," which will easily be put to the test in the final six weeks of the season. Get your roster cards ready because the Trojans may have a completely different look on the offensive ball against Utah than you came to expect when the season began.