Rector’s return would inject even more disruptive ability into a pass rush that has already generated the most total sacks in the nation (34) and ranks seventh in sacks per game. Rector began the season on the bench but surged to the lead in the Pac-12 Conference in sacks in just five starts. He now ranks second, with 6.5, behind USC defensive end Rasheem Green.
“The hand is cleared by the doctors,” Helton said. “It's just from a pain standpoint. He's not experiencing any pain right now, so basically we're going to take tomorrow and the next day, warm him up on Saturday and make a decision from there, and see how he's feeling about it. He wants to go.”
Rector has missed the last two games after breaking his hand during practice. Helton said Rector continued to do conditioning work while injured. Rector would not be on a specific snap count, Helton said.
“He's trending in a very positive direction,” Helton said. “He got really good work this week and today actually practiced and looked good with the club. We just wanted to see how he could function with that.”
Rector has never played with a club before, but the implement is not uncommon. An Arizona defensive lineman played with one against USC last week. And right tackle Chuma Edoga played with a club on his hand earlier in the season.
Jordan Iosefa filled in for Rector last week and had eight tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
If Rector cannot go this week, Helton said, “it would be for sure next week.”
USC’s offensive line was manhandled by Notre Dame’s front seven, the Trojans managing just 76 rushing yards. Since then, USC exploded for 341 rushing yards against Arizona State and 331 against Arizona, the team's two highest totals all season.
Why such a dramatic swing?
USC believes it has settled on the right formula on the line and has finally found some stability.
"I feel like we're finally getting a solidified five guys,” center Nico Falah said. “We're finally getting five guys for a consistent two weeks, and it's showing on the field. We're really communicating and playing together."
Marshall may play
Cornerback Iman Marshall, who has missed two games with a sprained knee, could see action “in a limited role" Saturday, Helton said.
Isaiah Langley has played in Marshall’s absence.
Marshall has been a limited participant in practice, working with the second-team defense.
"He's starting to look like his old self,” Helton said. “I think if needed I think he could go out there and help us."
Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) practiced Thursday for the first time this week and “looked good,” Helton said. … Left tackle Toa Lobendahn (knee soreness) did limited work, and Helton expects him to play Saturday. … Helton also expects tight end Tyler Petite (shoulder sprain) to play. ... Practice was cut several minutes short because of a brief power outage on campus. Power was quickly restored, but the lights at USC’s practice field take time to warm up, and the Trojans ran out of daylight.
Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand