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USC football: J.R. Tavai thriving as stand-up linebacker

USC football: J.R. Tavai thriving as stand-up linebacker
USC lineback J.R. Tavai celebrates with teammate Leonard Williams, right, after sacking Utah quarterback Travis Wilson during Saturday's 19-3 win. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

USC defensive ends Leonard Williams and George Uko have mostly clogged the middle of opposing offenses, allowing junior linebacker J.R Tavai to thrive.

Playing in place of injured Morgan Breslin, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Tavai had a team-best 11 tackles and two sacks last week against Utah. It was the second time in three games that the junior from Redondo Beach made at least 10 tackles.

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The Trojans are hoping that Tavai will continue his dominant play on Friday night at Oregon State.

Tavai, who came to USC from Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High, said he has benefited from lining up in a standing position, rather than a three-point stance he was accustomed to as down lineman.

"You get to see more," he said. "You also get to pass rush against one guy. So, thank you for Leonard and George taking up the middle and putting me on the outside.

"I thank them all the time."

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