As the sun set to the west Tuesday and the final rays of light pierced the palm trees shielding USC’s Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field, cornerback Iman Marshall lay on his back looking like a lonely figure deep in thought.
Whether at Long Beach Poly High or in three years at USC, Marshall has always been a workaholic, someone with high expectations who prided himself on being a physical defensive back.
Except in the last couple of games, he has been getting beat on occasion and making relatively few tackles.
Marshall needed to do some reflecting.
“I feel finishing is one of my biggest issues,” he said. “It goes along with everything I do in life and how I approach the week. It’s about finishing and taking on a professional-type atmosphere this week and the coming weeks.
“I was going back to my roots and understanding what got me to this situation. I feel I got a little bit away from it, and that’s me being the last one out here and putting in that extra work. These last couple of weeks have been humbling to me to understand I need to get back to that and get back to my work.”
Marshall and another Long Beach Poly grad, Jack Jones, understand that USC is facing a top passing team Friday night in unbeaten, 16th-ranked Washington State in Pullman, Wa.
“Washington State does pass a lot,” Jones said. “All I can do is go out there and do my job.”
Washington State has 40 players from California on its roster, but USC’s top five secondary players are all from Southern California and looking forward to their battle with Cougars quarterback Luke Falk, who has completed 77% of his passes and leads an offense that is passing for an average of 432.5 yards a game, third in the nation.
Besides Marshall and Jones, USC’s secondary includes safeties Marvell Tell III (Encino Crespi), Chris Hawkins (Rancho Cucamonga) and Ajene Harris (Crenshaw).
“What do they call themselves, Air Raid?” Tell said. “We’re going to have our hands full, but we’re preparing.”
Said Hawkins: “It’s a big seven-on-seven game.”
USC coach Clay Helton made clear what the Trojans’ strategy will be: “Keeping it away from their offense,” he said.
In trying to imitate the loud environment in Pullman, USC practiced with crowd noise blaring from loudspeakers. As for the weather, the forecast is for a low of 48 degrees on Friday night.
It’s become pretty clear through four games that the Trojans’ ability to finish games with a strong fourth quarter has been critical to their success.
“We found ways to be really good when it counts,” Helton said.
Receiving good news
It looks like receiver Deontay Burnett may be available for Friday’s game.
Burnett, the Trojans’ leading receiver with 33 catches for 462 yards and five touchdowns, sustained a shoulder injury against California on Saturday.
He has not practiced this week, but Helton sounded optimistic. “I think Deontay’s gonna be able to go.” he said. “We’re being pretty cautious with him.”
No longer invisible
The season might have started with few USC fans knowing freshman kicker Chase McGrath, but all that has changed. His game-winning field goal against Texas and his precision kicking have everyone marveling that he’s a walk-on.
He has made five of six field goals and 19 of 19 extra points.
“It’s nice getting some acknowledgment,” he said.