USC linebacker Dion Bailey upends Utah running back John White IV during… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Linebacker Dion Bailey leads USC in tackles, but the redshirt freshman from Lakewood is not impressed with his performance.
Not even after making 14 tackles against Arizona, the most by a USC freshman since Butkus Award winner Chris Claiborne had 20 against Arizona State in 1996.
"I'm playing well but I feel like I'm not really helping my team like I'm supposed to," Bailey said after practice Sunday. "Like a true linebacker, I need to lead the team in pass breakups or interceptions.
"I really have to step up in my game, have a better nose for the football when it's in the air and get my hands on it."
Bailey intends to improve his performance Thursday night when USC plays California at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Bailey, a converted safety, has 40 tackles. He had seven against Utah, nine against Syracuse and 10 against Arizona State before the breakout game against Arizona.
"That says a lot about him and his preparation," Coach Lane Kiffin said. "That's not an easy transition to make, especially in this complicated defense."
The 6-foot, 200-pound Bailey, however, has yet to intercept a pass for a Trojans defense that ranks 61st among 120 major-college teams.
"I'm playing kind of safe, not really going out on limbs to make plays on the ball," he said. "That's something I have to change and go back to — how I was in high school, a ball hawk."
Bailey made reference to Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, a hybrid linebacker/defensive back who has four interceptions, and Louisiana State's linebackers and defensive backs, who have combined for eight.
"They're always getting their hands on the ball," Bailey said. "I'm just tired of not being in that conversation. I've got to step it up."
Receiver Kyle Prater redshirted last season and has hardly played in the first five games.
After sitting out bye-week workouts because of a recurring foot problem, the 6-5, 215-pound Prater returned and had one of his most impressive practices since arriving in spring 2010.
Prater, a former standout at Proviso West High in Maywood, Ill., acknowledged frustration over the slow start of a college career that has been marred by injuries. But he sounded confident that his prospects were improving.
"My whole time since I've been here, I've been through adversity," he said. "It's just another hill I've got to overcome. I feel if I keep this attitude, I'll be all right."
With cornerback Torin Harris (shoulder) still sidelined, cornerback Isiah Wiley, a transfer from Arizona Western junior college, made several outstanding plays in practice. … This is the second consecutive season that USC and Cal will play when neither team is ranked. From 2002 to 2009, USC was ranked every time the teams played. Both teams were ranked in 2004 and also in 2006-2009.