USC's Taylor Mays (2) and Josh Pinkard (36) converge to stop Stanford… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
It's not as if USC safety Taylor Mays needed extra motivation going into the final games of his career, but the senior probably got some Monday.
Mays, a two-time All-American, was not among the three announced finalists for the Thorpe Award, presented annually to college football's top defensive back.
Mays, a 2008 Thorpe finalist, had hoped to finish his career by joining 1989 winner Mark Carrier as the only Trojans to receive an award that was established in 1986.
But Mays suffered a knee injury against Ohio State that sidelined him for the Trojans' loss at Washington. And his only interception came against California in the fifth game of the season.
Among the Thorpe finalists, Texas' Earl Thomas has seven interceptions, Florida's Joe Haden three and Tennessee's Eric Berry two.
Mays is the leading tackler for a USC team that is looking to regain its confidence against UCLA on Saturday at the Coliseum. The Trojans defense has been mostly on its heels since the second half of the Notre Dame game Oct. 17.
The unit hit bottom in a 55-21 loss to Stanford at the Coliseum on Nov. 14, USC's second blowout defeat in three games.
Mays said an open date last weekend allowed him to relax and "get my legs back" going into the final two games against UCLA and Arizona.
"I've got to get them good," he said of his legs, "so I can run around and try to hit some people."
Mays said the Trojans were "where we need to be" as they resumed practice. This will be Mays' fourth USC-UCLA game, but the Seattle native and son of a former Washington lineman remains more familiar with the Washington-Washington State rivalry.
"I didn't grow up a fan of USC or UCLA so it's not that big a deal to me. I know more about the Apple Cup," he said.
Receiver Damian Williams tested his injured right ankle with some light jogging, but remains doubtful for UCLA.
Williams, who sat out against Stanford, spent the weekend watching TV, icing his ankle and stretching during commercials. He said he felt pain Monday, "but it wasn't, like, excruciating."
"I don't want to get my hopes up and not play," said Williams, USC's leading receiver and punt returner. "I'd rather say I'm not playing and then play. . . . You never know."
Coach Pete Carroll wants to believe that Williams will be on the field against the Bruins. The junior played through a hamstring strain against Oregon and Arizona State before suffering a high ankle sprain against the Sun Devils.
"He's the kind of guy that will find a way," Carroll said, comparing Williams to NFL veterans. "It takes experience and a kind of wherewithal to realize you don't have to be 100% to play. Damian's a little bit like that."
Senior Nick Howell worked with the first-team offense at right guard, but offensive line coach Pat Ruel said no determination had been made regarding the lineup. . . . Cornerback Brian Baucham, who has not practiced in weeks because of a foot injury suffered in a September motorcycle accident, said doctors told him to rest three more weeks and then a determination could be made regarding possible surgery.