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USC vs. Colorado: Trojans push to build on Keaontay Ingram’s rushing success

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USC quarterback Kedon Slovis and Trojans receiver Drake London celebrate running back Keaontay Ingram's touchdown
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) and Trojans receiver Drake London (15) celebrate running back Keaontay Ingram’s (28) touchdown against Oregon State at the Coliseum on Sept. 25.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Struggling USC hits the road to face a Colorado team equally in need of a win as Pac-12 play continues for the Trojans. Follow our updates as the Trojans prep for the game.

Will Korey Foreman receive more playing time? USC defensive line coach Vic So’oto: ‘That’s up to him’

USC defensive lineman Korey Foreman lines up for a play.
USC defensive lineman Korey Foreman lines up for a play during the second half against Washington State on Sept. 18 in Pullman, Wash.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

When Korey Foreman signed with USC last December, the top recruit’s arrival was hailed as a program-altering moment.

“There are those special players that you know can make instant, immediate impacts and truly allow you to take another step forward defensively and as a team,” then-coach Clay Helton said at the time. “He’s that type of player.”

But after four games, Foreman has yet to save USC’s defense, which is coming off a humiliating loss to Oregon State in which it allowed 535 yards and 45 points. He’s yet to make much of an impact at all. Last week, in USC’s 45-27 loss, Foreman played just seven snaps on the defensive line.

In total, the touted freshman has been limited to 44 combined snaps and three tackles this season, even as USC could desperately use another pass rusher opposite of Drake Jackson.

There’s no guarantee more opportunity is imminent, either. Asked if Foreman might receive more playing time this week against Colorado, USC defensive line coach Vic So’oto didn’t mince words.

“That’s up to him,” So’oto said. “The players that play have earned it in practice. He’s got one more practice to earn more playing time and build confidence in us.”

Quarterback Kedon Slovis had an uneven performance in USC’s loss to Oregon State, but Donte Williams says others must share the blame.

Before this week, coaches largely chalked up Foreman’s limited snaps to nagging injuries he dealt with during practice. But on Wednesday, So’oto pivoted, attributing the lack of playing time instead to “being young.”

“He’s still 18, 19 years old and still learning how to play football,” So’oto said.

That process has been much slower than expected. So’oto said Foreman needs to learn to balance “all the great stuff that comes with USC off the field” and become “a lover of the game.”

It’s unclear what that means for his role the rest of this season. But the expectation of where his coach needs him to be was clear.

“Better,” So’oto said. “Plain and simply.”

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USC happy to keep feeding running back Keaontay Ingram as he heats up

USC Trojans running back Keaontay Ingram celebrates his touchdown against Oregon State
USC running back Keaontay Ingram (28) celebrates his touchdown run against Oregon State at the Coliseum on Sept. 25.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Mike Jinks promised all along that he would feed the hot hand. So when Keaontay Ingram finally started heating up Saturday against Oregon State and USC finally seemed to find its stride in the run game, the Trojans’ running backs coach wasn’t about to risk him cooling down.

Ingram kept getting the rock. He took six carries for 40 yards in the first quarter and four carries for 24 yards in the second. All the while, Vavae Malepeai, the other option in USC’s tandem backfield, sat on the sideline or stepped in largely to pass block.

It was a stark shift from the two-back approach Jinks had first committed to in January. But for the first time all season, USC’s run game finally seemed to find its rhythm — until Oregon State gave USC no choice but to abandon the run altogether during the 45-27 defeat.

“He definitely lit a spark,” Jinks said of Ingram. “And when they’re hot, they all know this, they’re not coming out. They’re not coming out. So we were gonna keep feeding him as long as we possibly could.”

While one back was well fed Saturday, the other mostly went hungry. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, when deficit extended to three scores and the run game had long been abandoned, that Malepeai worked in for four carries in garbage time. He managed 12 yards to Ingram’s 79, while Ingram also scored two touchdowns on 14 carries.

USC Trojans running back Keaontay Ingram (28) scores in front of Oregon State Beavers linebacker Avery Roberts
USC running back Keaontay Ingram (28) scores in front of Oregon State linebacker Avery Roberts (34) at the Coliseum on Sept. 25.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Touches, as previously promised, have been evenly split between the two this season, with Ingram handling 44 carries and Malepeai handling 42. Ingram, when asked about their split, said he’s happy to add more to his plate, if need be.

“If we need a spark, I feel like I’m the guy to deliver that,” Ingram said. “So I carry that on my shoulders a lot.”

The transfer back may find USC’s run game on his shoulders again Saturday, when he’s asked to go toe-to-toe with Colorado’s Jarek Broussard, last season’s Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Broussard has seen his own workload drop dramatically in 2021 from 26 carries per game to just 11 through four games. But in a game that could be decided on the ground, whomever sets the tone in the run game could run away with a much-needed Pac-12 victory.

Whether that’ll be Ingram or Malepeai for USC, coaches say, still depends on who heats up when it matters most.

“That’s always kind of the approach,” USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “But when [Ingram] is playing like he did Saturday, you have to try and feed him. Because like I said, he’s doing a lot of good things, playing really well, and having the ball in his hands was good for the offense.”

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Kedon Slovis uneven in trying to keep his claim as USC’s starting QB

Last week already started on a strange note for Kedon Slovis. Then, it ended on a sour one Saturday.

What began with a strained neck in Pullman, Wash., and an unexpected — albeit short-lived — competition at quarterback ended with Slovis, USC’s two-time All-Pac-12 incumbent, throwing his third interception of a miserable defeat, adding insult to a week defined, in some part, by injury.

Quarterback play was hardly the most pressing problem that presented itself during USC’s 45-27 loss to Oregon State.

But Slovis, just days after coaches declared a looming quarterback competition, didn’t exactly declare himself the answer at the position either.

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Hernández: USC’s historic loss wasn’t the miracle Donte Williams needed at the Coliseum

Well, we know who won’t be USC’s head coach next year.

Donte Williams’ minuscule chances of remaining in charge of the Trojans beyond this season were obliterated on Saturday night in a 45-27 defeat by Oregon State that was as historic as it was humiliating.

With USC presumably looking for a big-name coach, the assumption was that Williams had to perform a miracle to remove the interim label from his job description. Instead, he was responsible for a different kind of once-in-a-lifetime event, as the Trojans lost to the Beavers in Los Angeles for the first time since 1960.

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USC’s first football head coaching search in almost eight years is sure to take fans of many programs on a wild ride this fall. The fact that the job came open in mid-September should lead to a truly unique search, and The Los Angeles Times will perform a temperature check right here as developments occur.

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