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USC Sports

USC’s Toa Lobendahn out for the season because of torn knee ligament

Tyeler Davison, Toa Lobendahn

USC’s Toa Lobendahn battles Fresno State defensive lineman Tyeler Davison during a game on Aug. 30, 2014.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

USC’s offense, already depleted by several injuries, suffered another major blow.

Sophomore Toa Lobendahn, the Trojans’ most versatile offensive lineman, suffered a torn knee ligament in USC’s 42-24 victory over Utah and will be sidelined the rest of the season, interim Coach Clay Helton said Sunday night.

Lobendahn, who has started at four positions during his career, is the second offensive lineman to face season-ending knee surgery. Lobendahn started the last two games at center in place of Max Tuerk, who was injured against Washington and had surgery last week.

“All I can do is trust in God and Fight On! Thank you all for the support!” Lobendahn wrote in a post to his Twitter feed.

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Lobendahn was injured during the first half against Utah and did not return. Junior Khaliel Rodgers replaced him.

Helton said other than linebacker Cameron Smith, who intercepted three passes in the victory, “the second biggest star of the game” was Rodgers.

“Any time you get your third-string center in there and he goes in there and does what he does and plays extremely well, allowing us to function as an offense, that’s great,” Helton said during a teleconference with reporters.

Quarterback Cody Kessler also was impressed.

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“Toa went down and Khaliel went in and played amazing,” Kessler said Saturday night, “Like he was the starter all year.”

Helton said junior Nico Falah and freshman Cole Smith, who is on track to redshirt, would work this week as backups to Rodgers.

“We’ll have to prepare those two kids and see who gives us the best situation,” Helton said.

Other positions on the line also remain in flux.

Left tackle Chad Wheeler sat out against Utah because of a concussion. His status for Saturday’s game at California will not be determined until the Trojans practice this week.

Junior Zach Banner moved from right tackle and started in place of Wheeler at left tackle. Freshman Chuma Edoga started at right tackle.

Kessler was sacked four times and was hit hard on several other plays. But the senior said, “The thing I’m most proud of is the offensive line.”

“Those guys don’t blink,” Kessler said. “They go in and are physical.”

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Gaining momentum

USC’s victory over Utah marked the first time since 1975 that an unranked Trojans team defeated a team ranked third in the Associated Press poll.

The win reestablished Helton as a candidate to become the permanent head coach.

Asked whether he thought the victory kick-started his drive for the job — and what he needed to do to secure it — Helton deflected.

“I’ll worry about it at the end of the season,” he said. “I’ve said, ‘Yeah, I want the job.’ I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But my day-in and day-out performance needs to be focused on these kids and on winning the next game, and I’ll let everybody else speculate.”

Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham was regarded as a candidate for the USC job.

“I don’t know how they were 3-3 going in, but they’re really good,” he said of USC after the game.

Helton said Sunday that the Trojans played “our most consistent game, and I think consistency is a key both on and off the field.”

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How does it rank among victories he’s been involved in during his six seasons on USC’s staff?

“It was definitely a good win at the correct time,” he said. “We were at a crossroads in our season.”

Role change

Adoree’ Jackson, who had started 14 consecutive games at cornerback, started at receiver and played only two defensive snaps as a reserve against Utah.

Helton said Utah’s run-based offense and the Trojans’ depleted receiver corps put Jackson in position to contribute more on offense.

Jackson played 52 snaps, 40 on offense. He caught six passes for 37 yards and rushed twice for minus-one yard.

But Jackson was still effective, Kessler said.

“He didn’t touch the ball a lot,” Kessler said, “but having him on the field made the other team notice him.”

Jackson’s presence helped receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster enjoy a productive game,” Helton said. Smith-Schuster caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

“He gave us a great spark,” Helton said of Jackson.

Jackson’s role on offense will be “a game-to-game type thing,” Helton said.

Jackson’s role on defense is expected to be much larger against California, which features a passing offense that features quarterback Jared Goff and a talented receiving corps.

Quick hits

Freshman safety Marvell Tell III suffered a broken collarbone and is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks, Helton said…. USC’s game Saturday at California will kick off at noon and will be televised on Channel 11.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein


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