first_imgUSC football continued Rivalry Week preparations on Wednesday, taking to Howard Jones Field for the team’s penultimate practice before facing archrivals UCLA on Saturday. After what seemed like a season-killing 1-3 start, the Trojans have proceeded to win six straight games, and they now find themselves at No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings. A win over the Bruins would keep their Pac-12 championship — and Rose Bowl — hopes alive.Veteran LeadershipIn the midst of the season’s grueling stretch run, head coach Clay Helton praised the Trojans’’ old guard for setting an example for the squad.“You can see it on this practice field: how fast they’re playing and how much it means to them to finish what we’ve started,” he said.One of USC’s oldest leaders is actually a fresh face: redshirt senior Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, who transferred to Troy from Utah this fall. Since his arrival, the 25-year-old has become a sage-like presence on the practice field.“We’ve grown up because of that guy,” Helton said. “He is, without question, one of the more respected players on this football team, and I think a lot of it has to do with the maturity he has.“He’s a professional ready to go to the next level, and our guys see that and want to be that.”Tu’ikolovatu has undoubtedly made a large impact on the program, despite only spending one season at USC, and Helton was excited to see where he would go after this season.“Yes. No question,” Helton said when asked if he expected to see Tu’ikolovatu in the NFL. “It’s hard to have that size and that athleticism and that quick twitch. He’ll be in some camp someplace with an opportunity.”Time to HibernateIn Westwood, UCLA remains in the hunt for bowl eligibility even after losing first-string quarterback Josh Rosen for the season in October. The Bruins snapped a four-game losing streak last weekend against Oregon State, as fifth-year senior Mike Fafaul threw for 281 yards en route to a 38-24 victory over the Beavers.Fafaul may not be “Chosen” Rosen, but that doesn’t mean the Trojans are underestimating him.“He can make all the throws that Josh Rosen can make,” redshirt junior safety Chris Hawkins said. “But he has a turnover problem, so we’re going to try to take advantage of it.”The USC defense has been enjoying themselves in recent weeks, racking up three sacks in back-to-back games, and Helton praised the unit’s work ethic.“To be an elite football team, there is extra work that needs to be put in,” he said. “Credit to the kids: They come in on their own, sit in their defensive team room and do a great job of studying the opponent.”Hawkins has been a leader on the defense throughout the season, and he summed it up simply.“We know that we’re a good team,” he said, “so we have to prepare like a good team.”Forget the RecordsPreparing for a rivalry game, the Trojans were wary of getting too amped up — as they arguably did leading up to the season opener versus Alabama — and the squad has been working hard to maintain an even keel throughout the week.“When you get on such a roll like we’re on right now, it’s hard not to feel confident,” Hawkins said. “But at the same time, you must be humble. If a loss were to happen and you hit rock bottom, how would you recover from that?”This is an exciting time of the year, with the Pac-12 South race going down to the wire, but Hawkins insisted the team’s eyes remained squarely on the weekend.“We’re not looking forward right now: We’re focused on UCLA,” he said. “Hopefully we win and let everything else take care of itself.”Helton was also quick to remind everyone: There is no point in looking ahead if the Trojans don’t emerge victorious this weekend.“No matter how it swings Saturday, the fact of the matter is, we’ve got to line up and play a good UCLA team,” he said, “and if we’re not all there, we’ll get our butt beat.”last_img

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