USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster to face Oregon program he nearly joined
JuJu Smith-Schuster was on his way to playing football for Oregon.
He told his parents as much a few days before national signing day in 2014. And then, to the great relief of his mother, Smith-Schuster reversed field and announced he would stay closer to home and attend USC.
On Saturday, Smith-Schuster will face the Ducks when the Trojans travel to Autzen Stadium for a key Pac-12 Conference game.
If USC defeats Oregon and UCLA the next two weeks the Trojans will win the Pac-12 South Division and advance to the conference championship game for the first time. USC is No. 24 and Oregon No. 23 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking.
Smith-Schuster was a safety and receiver at Long Beach Poly High when he visited Oregon on a recruiting trip.
“All those [defensive backs] I saw there, I’m going against them this Saturday,” he said Tuesday after practice, “so it will be a lot of fun to play against them.”
Smith-Schuster has 63 receptions, 10 for touchdowns, and has played a big role in USC’s four-game winning streak. On Tuesday, he was announced as one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to college football’s top receiver.
In 2012, Marqise Lee became the only USC player to win the Biletnikoff Award.
“It would be awesome,” Smith-Schuster said when asked about the award, adding “it just shows the world, that like, this kid is a special kid. Whoever wins it, they deserve it and they earned it.”
Smith-Schuster has played in two games — catching long touchdown passes in both — since having surgery for a fracture in his right hand.
He continues to play through the pain.
“When I’m on the sideline, I’m making these face expressions like, ‘Oh, that hurts,’ ” he said. “But once I’m back on offense I don’t feel it anymore.”
USC put speakers on a cart that moved to various practice drills and pumped out crowd noise to simulate Autzen Stadium conditions.
Quarterback Cody Kessler was on the sideline in Eugene, Ore., as a freshman in 2011, when the Trojans upset the fourth-ranked Ducks, 38-35.
“When you get in the game, speaking for me personally, you don’t hear it — you kind of block it all out just because you’re getting focused, you zone in and kind of ignore everything,” Kessler said of playing in noisy stadiums. “But in between plays when you kind of snap out of that … you hear it and it’s loud.
“But you kind of feed off it sometimes. It’s fun to have them yell at you and then you make a play and it goes quiet. And then they make a play and its gets loud again. It’s kind of back and forth. That’s what you expect in road games.”
Sophomore Uchenna Nwosu, an outside linebacker during his two seasons at USC, practiced at inside linebacker as the Trojans took steps to fill the void left by injuries to Cameron Smith and Lamar Dawson.
Smith suffered a season-ending knee injury, Dawson a season-ending shoulder injury last week in USC’s victory at Colorado.
Nwosu said coaches informed him of the switch Monday.
“They told me, ‘We need you to play inside. Cam’s down, Lamar’s down. We need some help,’ ” Nwosu said.
Nwosu has made 12 tackles this season.
Sophomore Olajuwon Tucker and juniors Michael Hutchings and Jabari Ruffin also could figure in a rotation, interim Coach Clay Helton said this week.
Changing of the guard
Sophomore Chris Brown is on track to start at right guard in place of Viane Talamaivao, who suffered a knee injury at Colorado.
Brown, 6 feet 5 and 295 pounds, said he was ready for the promotion.
Brown acknowledged that it was tough at times to watch as other members of his recruiting class played soon after their arrival. Toa Lobendahn, Damien Mama and Talamaivao all started as freshmen.
Brown continued to work so he would be ready for his opportunity.
“All the coaches kind of assure us that it happens, people get injured,” he said. “I knew to always be prepared for that.”
Tailback Tre Madden and safety Leon McQuay III, who sat out against Colorado because of knee injuries, did not practice. ... The Trojans have not played Oregon since 2012, when the Ducks won, 62-51, at the Coliseum.
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