Nose tackle Antwaun Woods, who injured a pectoral muscle last week and had surgery, is sidelined for the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, so USC is experimenting with various configurations to contain running back Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Defensive linemen Cody Temple, Delvon Simmons, Claude Pelon and even Leonard Williams could fill Woods' role when the Trojans play the Cornhuskers on Dec. 27 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
Simmons is a probable candidate to start in place of Woods.
"We would all love to have Antwaun — he's a great leader, and like a tree stump down there in the nose tackle position," Williams said Friday. "Delvon's been able to step up this week and help us out.
"We all trust in him."
Simmons transferred to USC from Texas Tech before the 2013 season. Under NCAA rules, non-graduate transfers in football must sit out a season before they are eligible to compete for their new school.
This season, Simmons has made 43 tackles, 2 1/2 for losses.
The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Simmons provides USC with a rangy option.
"When you're that tall and you're in the middle of the defense and you can get your hands up, it can affect a quarterback some throwing the ball across the middle," USC Coach Steve Sarkisian said. "His length is helpful if he can get his hands inside and separate from the center and be able to make plays."
Abdullah has rushed for 1,523 yards and 18 touchdowns. Armstrong has rushed for 664 yards and five touchdowns.
"They kind of remind me of Stanford in the run game," Williams said. "So I'm looking forward to playing a good physical game."
USC's bowl practices have featured regular matchups between receiver JuJu Smith and cornerback Adoree' Jackson.
The freshmen starters seek the challenge.
"Anything we can do to get each other better," Jackson said.
Both players have had their moments.
"He makes some plays, I make some plays," Jackson said. "That's what's great about it. We don't hang our head."
Linebacker Quinton Powell is already working with an eye toward next season.
The sophomore from Florida is on a mission to add muscle and bulk.
"I'm doing my best to work out a lot, and I'm putting forth my best effort to eat every second," said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Powell. "My intention is to be 215 going into spring and gain more if I need to and be ready for next season."
Powell has 13 tackles, including two for losses.
Powell was a backup on defense and a standout on special teams. At the team banquet this week, he was recognized as the Trojans' special teams player of the year.
"It meant a lot," he said. "Special teams is something that I had to take ownership of. It made me a leader."
Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon made an outstanding one-handed catch during a drill, which produced congratulations from receiver Nelson Agholor.
Dixon has 10 receptions, three for touchdowns.
Dixon has benefited from being in the same position group as fifth-year senior Randall Telfer, who has provided an outstanding example, Sarkisian said.
"You see it," Sarkisian said. "You see Bryce's practice habits have just steadily gotten better and better and better, and today was a great example of that."
Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) participated in a few drills…. The Trojans practice Saturday and then will be off two days. They will work out on campus Tuesday and then depart for San Diego.