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As frustration mounts, Zach Banner vows USC will not give up on season

USC offensive tackle Zach Banner catches a lateral on the final play of the Trojans' loss to Utah, 31-27, on Sept. 23.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

USC offensive tackle Zach Banner does not regret what he wrote about former running back LenDale White over the weekend. White wasn’t happy with USC’s losing. Banner wasn’t happy with White.

“I don’t feel dumb sticking up for my team,” Banner said after Tuesday’s practice. “I just feel dumb doing it on Twitter.”

USC is adjusting to a status its players hope will be fleeting: it is a losing football team.

After Friday’s loss to Utah dropped USC to 1-3, some current players have begun to feel embattled, shunned by frustrated former players.

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One of the discontented elders was White, the typically outspoken former back, who has criticized Banner for multiple weeks on Twitter. So on Saturday, Banner responded by referencing a game two season ago, when White was escorted out of the Coliseum by game security personnel and Los Angeles Police Dept. officers. Banner accused White of being intoxicated.

“Stay away and stay irrelevent,” Banner added in the tweet, which he later deleted.

For all USC has endured since the departure of former coach Pete Carroll, it has rarely experienced losing. It has been 15 years, Carroll’s first season, since USC began with a 1-3 mark.

For most players involved, it is a new feeling.

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“It hurts a lot,” receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “But you can’t just sit back and think about it. You’ve got seven, eight more games ahead of you.”

Smith-Schuster said USC’s goals have adjusted. The loss to Utah means USC isn’t guaranteed the Pac-12 South division title even if it wins out — it would need the Utes to lose at least two more conference games.

But, Smith-Schuster said, all USC can do is try to win, and hope.

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“It’s still not over,” he said. “If we still win the South, we have an opportunity to play in the Pac-12 championship.”

Banner, who exchanged several acrimonious tweets with White, said USC has not abandoned the season.

“A lot of people have flared up because we’re losing. That doesn’t excuse it,” Banner said. “You have every right to be [angry] at losing. Don’t abandon ship. Don’t give up. I’m not giving up.”

Jefferson out

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Defensive tackle Noah Jefferson will be out several weeks, possibly until November, to focus on academics, Coach Clay Helton said Tuesday.

Jefferson previously had missed time with a shoulder sprain, and, Helton said last week, had returned home to Las Vegas for personal reasons.

“I think it’s going to take a couple weeks, not only the academics but to finish getting healthy,” Helton said. “He’s gotta play some catch-up.”

USC’s defensive line lacked much depth even before Jefferson’s injury. Last week, Utah exhausted USC in the fourth quarter, when the Utes mounted a comeback victory. USC didn’t record a single sack in the game.

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Overall, USC is 99th in the nation in sacks, with five in four games. The Trojans are 81st in tackles for loss, with 21. And they are 92nd in rushing defense, giving up almost 195 yards per game.

Quick hits

Smith-Schuster has suffered hand and foot injuries throughout the season, Helton said, injuries severe enough that offensive coordinator Tee Martin was unsure if Smith-Schuster would be able to play late in the game against Utah. He has not missed time. … Guard Damien Mama (stinger) left Tuesday’s practice and Banner (ankle sprain) was limited, but both are expected to return Wednesday. … Backup cornerback Jack Jones (ankle sprain) is “50-50 at best” to play against Arizona State, Helton said. … Running back Vavae Malepeai (fractured shoulder blade) and safety John Plattenburg (concussion) participated in practice but not in contact drills. … When asked about USC’s decision to punt from Utah’s territory on Friday, Smith-Schuster responded, “It’s like playing Madden. Do you punt the ball? No.”

zach.helfand@latimes.com

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Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand


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