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USC FYI

USC's Taylor Mays isn't satisfied

Senior safety made a key interception against California, but he wasn't happy with his tackling.

October 08, 2009|Gary Klein

Long after practice ended Wednesday, USC safety Taylor Mays continued to work.

That's not unusual: The All-American routinely stays late to practice catching balls that are shot toward him from a machine.

But Mays on Wednesday changed his routine, retiring to a far corner of the facility where he repeatedly charged into a tackling sled, driving it across the turf with his arms wrapped around the pads.

Mays made a team-high 10 tackles in the Trojans' victory at California last Saturday.

That, apparently, wasn't good enough for the senior who passed up an opportunity to enter April's NFL draft and returned for a final season of eligibility.

"I didn't tackle well," Mays said of his performance against Cal. "So I'm just getting back to, hopefully, what I do best."

With USC in the midst of an open week, Mays and other starters are taking fewer snaps as coaches evaluate younger players.

Mays, however, is making the most of his limited opportunities and appears more relaxed after intercepting a pass during the first series against Cal.

Mays' interception, his first since 2007, changed the momentum and sent the Trojans on their way to victory.

"I want to get some more, let's not stop there," Mays said, chuckling. "I kind of got some confidence back.

'"Let's just get the ball.' That's what I'm thinking."

Opening up

After amassing 457 yards against Cal, USC is ranked 25th nationally in total offense.

The Trojans, who are preparing for their Oct. 17 matchup at Notre Dame, are averaging 431 yards a game.

"We're heading in the right direction," said Jeremy Bates, the Trojans' quarterbacks coach and play-caller.

The key, Bates said, has been the maturation of freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.

As the season has progressed, USC has expanded its attack. Barkley, for example, was allowed to make longer throws in the last two games.

"He's definitely earned the right to basically throw the [play] book at him now," Bates said.

Tailback Joe McKnight carried the ball a career-high 20 times against Cal and will continue to shoulder the majority of the workload in the running game.

"Joe's earned the right to carry the ball more than everybody," Bates said. "He's proven that he's a tough runner, that he's an every-down back. We're going to keep featuring him."

Making an impression

Cornerback Torin Harris is among the younger players getting an extended look this week.

The freshman from Las Vegas had one of the defense's three interceptions during scrimmage drills Wednesday.

The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Harris is on track to redshirt.

"He's a really good prospect," Coach Pete Carroll said. "He's going to be a factor for us in spring football."

Quick hits

Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who did not play against Cal because of an ankle injury, has been practicing with the first unit and should be ready to play against Notre Dame. Linebacker Jordan Campbell (ankle) remains sidelined. . . . Receiver Ronald Johnson increased his workload, but he has yet to be cleared for contact. . . . Tailback Stafon Johnson, who remains hospitalized, is scheduled to undergo a series of tests today to determine how he has progressed from emergency throat surgery last week, Carroll said.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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