USC will present at least one different component when the Trojans play Stanford for the second time this season.
Ronald Jones II was a jittery freshman in only his third game when the Cardinal defeated USC in September.
Jones has since become game-tested — and the Trojans’ leading rusher — going into Saturday’s Pac-12 Conference championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
“I’ve definitely grown as a player, with the help of my coaches and teammates, to not play like a freshman,” said Jones, who has rushed for 890 yards and seven touchdowns.
Jones had played against Arkansas State and Idaho before the Trojans played Stanford the first time. He got six carries and produced only 19 yards in the Trojans’ 41-31 defeat by the Cardinal.
“I was little nervous,” he said, “and the coach could tell.”
Jones has since improved, breaking out with a USC freshman-record 177 yards rushing against Arizona.
Junior Justin Davis has taken on the leading role in the last three games, but Jones should still get plenty of opportunities.
Jones had 19 carries against Colorado, 14 against Oregon and 17 against UCLA.
“Early on I was trying to make a big play [every carry],” he said. “Now I understand I have to take those five and six yards every now and then.”
USC Coach Clay Helton said he had a good feeling about how Jones would perform on Saturday.
“I just have a feeling the man is going to make a great explosion play for us,” Helton said.
Stanford is among college and professional teams utilizing a virtual-reality system to train quarterbacks, and USC could possibly add the technology as a tool after the season.
Helton said he met with representatives from the same company about a month ago.
“It’s really at the forefront of where college football is headed to in the technology side,” he said.
Helton indicated that Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan’s play this season was a ringing endorsement.
“You can see Kevin having a heck of a year,” he said. “If that’s the byproduct if it, mercy, what a great product.”
Center Khaliel Rodgers is working to rehabilitate a high ankle sprain. “His mind-set is that he wants to play,” said Helton, who added that Rodgers would test the ankle Friday. Nico Falah would start if Rodgers is not available. ... Linebacker Osa Masina, sidelined against UCLA because of a hamstring injury, is expected to be available against Stanford. Safety Leon McQuay III (knee) is “really, really close” and will probably be available “for emergency purposes,” Helton said.