USC’s Connor Murphy knows it’s time to step up on defense

Christian Rector, above, is injured, so that means more playing time for Connor Murphy.
Christian Rector, above, is injured, so that means more playing time for Connor Murphy.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

As Connor Murphy saw it, sitting out was a business decision. He wasn’t seeing much playing time along USC’s defensive line. Just a few snaps here and there, most of them at the end of the game.

So, last October, coaches raised the idea of Murphy redshirting for the remainder of his junior season. Under new NCAA rules, which allowed players to redshirt even after appearing in four games, Murphy could shut down for the season and still recoup a year of eligibility.

Well into his USC career, Murphy didn’t love the idea at first. But after further consideration, Murphy began to understand the benefits of such a decision.

“We had a stud in Porter Gustin here and Christian Rector on the other side,” Murphy said. “I just kind of had to bide my time last year, fit underneath those guys’ wings, get all the coaching I can, and have a good offseason.”


This week, that extra time should come in handy. The Trojans defense could be without Rector for Saturday’s game against Brigham Young, after the senior defensive end hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter against Stanford last week.

On Thursday, Rector was able to practice in limited fashion, and he will travel with the team to Provo on Friday. But coach Clay Helton acknowledged his status was “questionable at best” beyond that.

Regardless of whether the senior captain is in the lineup, Murphy had already worked his way into USC’s rotation up front. A week ago, he played a career-high 25 snaps. But without Rector, who sits ahead of him on the depth chart, Murphy is expected to play an even more significant role.

Just before USC president Carol Folt publicly announced Lynn Swann’s resignation on Monday, Clay Helton had been in the dark with the rest of the department.

That opportunity isn’t lost on the redshirt junior.

“It’s my time to shine,” Murphy said. “I’m not a rookie anymore. This is my fourth year. I know this defense in and out, and it’s time to step up.”

Since its inception, Helton has made his support for the new redshirt rules known. Last season, Helton had his staff put together a database to monitor snaps and games played, for the purpose of picking out possible redshirt options.

The Trojans took full advantage of the rule as a result, as they retained eligibility for a handful of future rotation players such as Murphy and fellow defensive end Caleb Tremblay, who will also rotate against BYU. For players like them, Helton said, “it’s a great situation.”

“I think it’s the best rule that’s been in college football in my 25 years,” Helton said.

Murphy concurs. Now, with an extra season of eligibility at his disposal, he’s planning to start work on his master’s degree.

“It sucked that I had to repeat my junior year,” Murphy said, “but it was a good business decision. It’s what had to be done.”

Thinning receiver corps

USC lost one of its talented young wideouts this week, when sophomore Devon Williams entered the NCAA transfer portal. But when asked about Williams’ decision on Thursday, Helton didn’t seem all that concerned about depth at the position.

“We still have eight receivers that can go at any point in time,” Helton said. “All have played, all have had reps. We’re in a good position, a really good position.”

Helton didn’t offer any details on Williams’ departure other than to reiterate more than once that Williams was a “great kid, good player,” and that he’d “wish him nothing but the best.”

USC receiver Devon Williams entered the NCAA’s transfer portal this week, after playing sparingly through the Trojans’ first two games of the season.

In his place, USC count more on John Jackson or Velus Jones in that position. But another freshman wideout likely won’t factor in much.

Kyle Ford was cleared to return to practice last week, but his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament injury is ongoing. Helton said the plan is to hopefully have Ford ready to return for the final four games of the season, in order to maintain his ability to redshirt.

“But he’s not near yet to be ready to play,” Helton said of Ford. “We’re making an investment in him.”


Sophomore defensive back Chase Williams (shoulder) practiced Thursday and is expected to play against BYU. … Redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp is dealing with a calf injury and will be a “game-time decision”. ... Injured quarterback JT Daniels will not travel to BYU, as his surgery date for a torn ACL nears.