USC quarterback Cody Kessler is preparing to play without his top target Saturday against Arizona.
Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had surgery on his right hand Monday and is doubtful to play against the Wildcats at the Coliseum.
“It’s been like that for a while now,” Kessler said of losing receivers because of injuries. “Next guy up.”
Interim Coach Clay Helton did not say definitively that Smith-Schuster would be sidelined against the Wildcats. But it’s unlikely USC would jeopardize the sophomore’s ability to play the rest of the season.
“If we don’t have him this week, the prognosis is, hopefully, next week,” Helton said. The Trojans play at Colorado on Nov. 13.
USC recently was without receivers Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell Jr. for several games because of hamstring and ankle injuries. Both played in last week’s victory over California.
But Smith-Schuster is the Trojans’ No. 1 receiver, with 52 receptions, eight for touchdowns.
Junior De’Quan Hampton and freshman Deontay Burnett are expected to help fill the void. Both spent extra time with Kessler after practice.
Kessler said it was “comfortable for me to know these guys know the offense and they are going to step up. No matter who it is, they’re going to come in and make plays.”
After having five passes intercepted in three games, Kessler has not committed a turnover in the last two.
The fifth-year senior threw a season-low 22 passes in the Trojans’ 27-21 victory over California.
“Me and Coach Helton have talked,” Kessler said. “I’ve always told him, ‘Whatever you ask from me, I’m going to do.’ That’s always been my mentality.
“You want me to go out and throw it five times, I will. You want me throw it 20 times, I’ll do that. You want me to hand it off, whatever it may be, that’s what I’m going to do, but I want to be efficient when I’m doing it.”
With Khaliel Rodgers playing in place of injured center Max Tuerk and back-up Toa Lobendahn, Kessler is taking more snaps under center rather than from the shotgun formation. He said he was comfortable with both, but taking snaps from Rodgers under center gives the lineman one less thing to think about.
“He’s got so much on his plate and has so much going on — having to make calls and everything — it helps him out,” Kessler said. “Knowing I’m under center makes the snap a little bit easier.”
USC is 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference. The Trojans remain in the hunt for the South Division title.
Kessler said Helton has his vote “100%" to become the Trojans’ permanent head coach.
“Not saying that it’s anything negative about people before but Coach Helton is a genuine guy,” Kessler said, “and I really do think he can do great things for … this university. And I believe in him.”
Hampton, who transferred to USC from Long Beach City College, has no hesitation about possibly starting in Smith-Schuster’s place.
“They brought me in here to do that,” said Hampton, who has five catches. “So, in my mind, I’m ready or it.”
Hampton had one reception against Cal, but Helton said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver was open on numerous plays.
“It’s time to go trust him and go get the ball to him,” Helton said.
Adoree’ Jackson, who returned an interception for a touchdown against Cal, is working primarily at cornerback for the second consecutive week. Jackson practiced with the offense at receiver before the Trojans played Utah…. Defensive lineman Claude Pelon, sidelined the last three games because of a knee injury, participated in a few drills.