Coach Paul Hackett held a meeting with his seniors Wednesday to emphasize the importance of the Trojans getting off to a quick, emotional start in their home opener against Colorado on Saturday.
Last season, the Trojans came out flat in their second game after winning the opener on the road.
"The vast majority of our season will be in the Coliseum," Hackett said. "How we start in the Coliseum . . . will be very important. We need to be sure everyone understands that."
The players responded with what Hackett described as a spirited practice. In a scrimmage between the starting offense and defense, linebacker Zeke Moreno howled at receiver Kareem Kelly when Kelly was unable to make a catch. Kelly answered by hauling in a long pass along the sideline a few plays later.
"We need to have that hard tempo and focus every day," linebacker Kori Dickerson said.
Malaefou MacKenzie's return to practice drew mixed reviews. The junior tailback has been nursing a sore hamstring and Hackett was not convinced that he is fit.
"A little iffy," Hackett said. "I wasn't comfortable with the way he looked today."
But running back coach Kennedy Pola thought MacKenzie contributed in other ways.
"He is such a tempo-setter," Pola said. "The attitude, the effort . . . it's like a shot of sugar."
Carson Palmer said no amount of practice can simulate game conditions, but the redshirt sophomore quarterback is confident he will not be as rusty as he was against Penn State.
"Every chance I have to go against our defensive line and linebackers . . . it's a chance to have guys coming at you," he said.
His top two receivers are encouraged by what they have seen in recent days.
"It was all timing," Marcell Allmond said of the season opener. "We got in the game and everyone was pumped. Adrenaline was flowing. I was probably running a little faster than I did in camp."
Kelly said Palmer has looked sharper in full-speed and blitz drills, reading his keys instead of locking onto one receiver.
"It's good we had a bye week," he said. "It gave us a chance to dot our I's and cross our Ts."