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USC vs. Arizona: Trojans regroup, push for a win over struggling Wildcats

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USC coach Donte Williams stands beside his players during the Trojans' loss to Notre Dame last week
USC coach Donte Williams stands beside his players during the Trojans’ loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., last week.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

USC will try to rebound from a loss at rival Notre Dame when the Trojans host Arizona on Saturday. Follow along for game-week updates.

Jonah Monheim’s starting job in question after struggling early against Notre Dame

USC offensive lineman Jonah Monheim lines up on the field
USC offensive lineman Jonah Monheim lines up during a game at Colorado on Oct. 2.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

USC offensive line coach Clay McGuire says he has the utmost confidence Jonah Monheim has a bright future. But after Monheim was replaced at right tackle during Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame, McGuire’s immediate plans up front may no longer include the freshman in a full-time role.

Redshirt senior Jalen McKenzie stepped in and took the majority of reps at right tackle on Tuesday while Monheim largely practiced on USC’s second-team offensive line. It’s not the first time that McGuire has experimented with the order up front, but when asked about the plan at right tackle, he said he planned to “ride the hand that’s hot a little bit.”

That could very well be McKenzie, who replaced Monheim after just 12 snaps last Saturday.

“We’ve got some depth there,” McGuire said. “We just have to make sure we’re playing the right one at the right time.”

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Constantly mixing and matching isn’t often an ideal formula for an offensive line, but USC has managed to make it work at times this season. McGuire pointed out McKenzie also spelled a struggling Monheim against Washington State, only to have the freshman come back and play his two best games of the season against Oregon State and Colorado.

McKenzie started all six games at right tackle last season after starting all 13 games the season before at either right guard or right tackle. But the redshirt senior was supplanted by Monheim this fall after the freshman earned rave reviews from coach Clay Helton, who said he had the best spring and summer of any player on the team.

That consistency hasn’t always been there. On Saturday, McGuire said, Monheim had a particularly difficult time dealing with Notre Dame’s sizable defensive ends.

“He just needs to get older and play,” McGuire said. “It’s one of those things. It’s a huge adjustment, coming into this league. He’s a good player, and he’s getting better. Some confidence, as he continues to have success, will help. As he grows and continues to get bigger and stronger, that will help. So like I said, he just needs to stay the course. He’s going to be a great player. He puts in the time. He cares. He does everything right. He’s going to be just fine.”

That could, at some point, mean changing positions. McGuire said he thought that Monheim had the ability to be “one of the best centers in college football” if USC opted to play him at the position.

“You never know,” McGuire said when asked about a possible change. “I think the kid is going to be a great player. He’s doing really well as a freshman right now. Is he playing the best he’s ever going to play at SC? No, right now he’s not. But at some point four years down the road, he’s going to be pretty special.”

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