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USC's T.J. McDonald says he hasn't changed mind-set since suspension

T.J. McDonald, a senior safety for the Trojans, drew a half-game suspension last season for a hit on a Stanford receiver. 'I'm still going to play physical,' McDonald says. 'It's the only way I know how to play this game.'

September 12, 2012|By Gary Klein

T.J. McDonald's mind-set has not changed.

"I'm still going to play physical," he said Wednesday. "It's the only way I know how to play this game."

But McDonald, USC's senior safety, acknowledged that he worked to refine his tackling technique after he was suspended last season.

The Pac-12 Conference disciplined McDonald in October, a few days after he delivered a fourth-quarter hit on Stanford receiver Chris Owusu in USC's 56-48 triple-overtime loss to the Cardinal. The conference described Owusu as a "defenseless opponent" on the play.

McDonald, who five weeks earlier had been called for three personal fouls in a game against Arizona State, was suspended for the first half of the Trojans' next game against Colorado. He said at the time that he was not trying to hurt Owusu.

Now, the second-ranked Trojans are preparing for a game Saturday against Stanford at Stanford Stadium.

Asked what effect, if any, the suspension had on his play, McDonald was steadfast.

"Zero," he said. "No effect. I mean I learned my lesson a long time ago, put it behind me. All I can do is learn from it, play within the rules and just keep playing physical football."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound McDonald said he has worked to lead with his arms and wrap up opponents when he tackles.

"I'm never going to try to aim for anybody's head or try to go head to head," he said.

After the Pac-12 handed down the suspension, Coach Lane Kiffin said, "We respectfully disagree."

On Wednesday, he said he remains mystified.

"I don't know how that could have been stopped," he said of the hit. "It's impossible. I think it's people slowing things down in slow motion, making decisions. If you understand the game of football and how fast that was, there's no way."

Meantime, McDonald, like quarterback Matt Barkley, is seeking his first victory over Stanford.

The Trojans were routed in 2009. They lost on a last-second field goal in 2010 and saw victory fade when Curtis McNeal fumbled last season.

McDonald won't rule out another close finish — and a different result.

"If it does, we'll be ready," he said of a last-play scenario. "The biggest thing we've been talking about since the off-season, since spring, is just finishing.

"If that opportunity comes up, we're going to finish."

Quick hits

Kiffin declined to confirm a Los Angeles Daily News report that kicker Andre Heidari had undergone knee surgery. ... Daily News reporter Scott Wolf will be allowed to attend USC practices and games while the university and representatives from the Los Angeles Times, Daily News and Orange County Register try to work out an agreement on what can be reported from in-season practices. Wolf had been suspended by USC after reporting Heidari's surgery and that he would be sidelined for about three weeks. The Daily News report did not cite practice-related information, but USC considered it to be a violation of its practice policy. ... Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing, averaging 92.5 yards per game. USC's Silas Redd is seventh, averaging 81.5.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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