After practice Wednesday, USC cornerback Isaiah Langley was asked what makes Colorado’s budding star receiver, Laviska Shenault, so tough to defend.
“Who?” Langley said.
“Laviska Shenault,” the reporter answered.
“Who’s that?” Langley said, still stumped.
“No. 2. The guy with all the stats,” the reporter answered.
“Oh!” Langley said.
Langley wasn’t trying to show any disrespect to Shenault, the Colorado sophomore who leads the nation with 10.2 receptions and 141.6 receiving yards per game. But Langley was also plenty happy to make the point that USC is focused much more on itself this week in preparation for the No. 21 Buffaloes.
“This is another faceless opponent,” Langley said. “I’m excited to play this guy. He lines up on my side quite a bit. I’ve watched film of the guy. He’s nothing that I ain’t seen before. I’m excited to get after it.”
To be fair, Shenault truly has come out of nowhere. At DeSoto High in Texas, he was rated the 66th-best player in the state and the 73rd-best wide receiver nationally by the 247 Sports Composite Rankings. If he keeps playing like this, though, he’ll be a household name as a Heisman Trophy candidate by season’s end.
“A huge part of recruiting is evaluation,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “There are a bunch of great players who are five-stars. There are also the players out there who were two- and three-stars that you just have to trust your evaluation and trust that you know you can develop a kid. And credit [Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre]. He’s done a great job of finding a young man out of Texas and bringing him into his place and developing him like he has. And credit the kid. He’s playing great ball right now.”
Regardless of what Langley wanted to portray, the Trojans have spent a good portion of this week preparing for Shenault’s diverse array of skills. The Buffaloes line him up all over the field at outside and inside receiver and mix up their formations routinely in an attempt to hide Shenault from the defense.
“They have a new plan with him, a new wrinkle every week,” USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “We anticipate him not showing up in the spots that he usually does.”
One place USC expects to see Shenault is in the backfield as a “Wildcat” quarterback. He’s carried the ball five times in Colorado’s five games this season, scoring four touchdowns and converting a fourth down on those runs.
The Trojans haven’t faced a Wildcat formation yet this season.
“Not giving away any game plan,” Helton said, “it’s something that we have to work in. We started early. We usually start red zone and goal line on Thursday. We actually started it Tuesday. We have spent extra time just in that facet.”
Cameron Smith questionable
Helton said that inside linebacker Cameron Smith was held out of practice Thursday with a mild hamstring strain.
“Right now, probably about 50-50 at best, I’ll be honest with you,” Helton said of Smith’s chances of playing Saturday. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, but it wasn’t ready today.”
Smith, a senior captain, has two times as many tackles as any other Trojan with 47. He has barely come off the field this season.
Helton said that true freshman Palaie Gaoteote IV and senior Reuben Peters would step in for Smith if he’s unable to play. Helton said Smith spent practice Thursday giving instruction to Gaoteote, whose nickname is “E.A.”
“E.A. has been a guy that has come on over the past five weeks,” Helton said. “The bye week really helped him.”
Helton said that center Toa Lobendahn (back) practiced Thursday. … Outside linebacker Porter Gustin (ankle) also got more work Thursday than in previous days. Gustin said Wednesday he expects to play. … Defensive tackle Brandon Pili (toenail) practiced Thursday, and Helton expects him to play Saturday. Defensive tackle Jay Tufele (car accident) was “moving around good” Thursday. Helton expects to hear from team doctors Friday. … Levi Jones (illness) should be available.