LOS ANGELES >> Southern California wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was upset.
After fighting with two defenders, he walked to the other side of the practice field with cornerback Adoree Jackson in pursuit. After Smith-Schuster and Jackson spoke for several minutes, Trojans coach Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Tee Martin eventually convinced Smith-Schuster to return, though he did not participate in any drills afterwards.
It was not the conventional way to build team morale, but might have been exactly what the Trojans needed after being demolished 52-6 by No. 1 Alabama.
“We got a mad football team right now. Wish we could play today to be honest with you. It was ultra-competitive out here today, which is a good sign as a head coach,” Helton said. “I’d rather have it like that than the other. Saturday can’t get here quick enough for us.”
Smith-Schuster wasn’t the only one mad about an offensive performance in which USC did not score a touchdown for the first time since 1997 and was held to just 194 yards of total offense. An offensive line that returned the second-most career starts in the FBS allowed three sacks and nine tackles for loss. As the Crimson Tide was able to create consistent pressure with only four rushers, the defense could double-team Smith-Schuster, who had one reception for nine yards.
“Sometimes that first game lets you know where you are and where the holes are and what you got to fix, and for us it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Martin said. “No, you don’t want to lose in that way, you don’t want to perform the way that we did, but it put the mirror in our face as to some things we got to work on and get better at.”
When asked what USC needed to improve on, Martin replied “a lot of things.”
More troubling than the physical gap between USC and the defending national champions was the lack of mental fortitude to match Alabama, running back Justin Davis said. After cornerback Marlon Humphrey returned an interception 18 yards late in the first half to give Alabama a 17-3 lead, there was no belief that USC could mount a comeback.
“It just died down after that one mistake. We can’t have that going forward,” Davis said. “We let the name Alabama get in our heads and then it took off. ‘Oh well, they’re too good. They are about to win the national championship.’ That’s not the case, I didn’t believe at least. We had the team to go out there and compete against them for four quarters.”
Utah State, which travels to the Coliseum on Saturday, has the belief it can compete with USC after a 17-14 loss in 2013, a sentiment that was reinforced by the Trojans’ meek performance against Alabama.
“I definitely feel that we have an opportunity to go in there and win,” Aggies defensive end Rick Ali’ifua said. “To be quite honest, this time I’m coming for blood.”
The intensity of Tuesday’s practice was a positive sign to Davis that USC is rediscovering a winning outlook, Smith-Schuster’s scuffle and all.
“It’s just that we need to keep having that something in our belly, the desire to want to be great,” Davis said. “I think we’re starting off this week great with that.”
NOTES: LB Osa Masina and DE Don Hill will not play against Utah State, Helton said. Masina and Hill are under investigation for sexual assault, but neither player has been arrested or charged. The university is allowing Masina and Hill to attend classes, practice and participate in team meetings, Helton said.