- Johnny Curren, WeAreSC, Reporter
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LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans continued to gear up for Saturday’s matchup with UCLA with another full-pads practice on Wednesday under beautiful sunny conditions on the USC campus. With the added storyline of a berth in the Pac-12 championship game on the line, coach Lane Kiffin continues to stress the importance of focusing on the task at hand.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement around it,” Kiffin said of this weekend’s crosstown clash at the Rose Bowl. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re preparing for the game and for the opponent, and not worry about the hype around it.”
But for players like senior safety T.J. McDonald, this is a game that always holds at least some extra significance that’s hard to ignore.
“It means a lot,” McDonald said. “It’s a rivalry game. You come here … you watch this rivalry, you know what it means, so you’ve just got to live up to those expectations. The great players that came before you played in this game, showed out and you want to be able to carry that tradition on. It means a lot, not just for us, but for the entire Trojan Family.”
More Hundley talk
Kiffin continued to praise the play of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Wednesday. Having completed 76.9 percent of his passes for 823 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions over his last three games, he’s been incredibly efficient as a redshirt freshman.
“Especially the way he’s played the last three games, he’s put together unbelievable numbers,” Kiffin said. “So I think you start watching [and ask], ‘How can that happen with a freshman?’ It’s very unusual. And they’ve done a great job with him. It’s a great system. They’ve somehow managed him -- to be a freshman, but not make a ton of mistakes and not turn the ball over a lot, which is unusual in a first-year system and a first-year quarterback. So, a lot of credit to them and to him.”
But Hundley isn’t just a threat to the Trojans as a passer. He’s amassed almost 300 yards on the ground this season and is particularly adept at picking up chunks of yardage when plays break down, something McDonald and Co. are well aware of.
“He’s one of the guys you’ve got to make sure that you watch out for, not just in the passing game, but he can take off and run,” McDonald said. “He’s a strong runner, so you’ve got to make sure that you tackle him in open space and don’t let him get a head of steam.”
Respect for Franklin
In addition to Hundley, the Bruins also feature one of the nation’s most prolific running backs, Johnathan Franklin. Spearheading a Bruins’ ground attack that currently ranks No. 23 nationally with an average of 210.9 yards per game, he’s racked up 1,270 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
“I think that’s where their offense starts,” McDonald said. “They’re a balanced offense, but he’s definitely the catalyst for their offense, so [we have] to make sure that we gang tackle him, don’t give him too many gaps to squirt through ... so just play the aggressive style of defense that we know how, and I think we’ll be alright.”
Shaw settling in
Having started the last four games at cornerback after moving over from safety, Josh Shaw has performed solidly. Seeming to add at least some semblance of stability to a position marked by inconsistent play earlier this season, Kiffin has been impressed with the Palmdale native’s speedy adjustment to the position.
“I think Josh has done a great job,” Kiffin said. “That’s a very hard transition for a guy to do that, to go from safety to corner in the middle of the year, and he’s played about as well as you can for that transition, and he’s a great kid too.”
Both McDonald and defensive end Wes Horton have some interesting family ties to UCLA. McDonald’s brother, Tevin, currently starts for the Bruins at safety, while Horton’s father, Myke, played on the offensive line for the Bruins in the 1970s.
For McDonald, both he and his brother receive equal support from their parents, but don’t expect to see his father -- former USC All-American safety Tim McDonald -- donning UCLA colors Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
“He won’t wear blue,” McDonald said. “He told Tevin that before he got there. He’s not wearing any blue, but my mom will probably put some Bruin blue on.”
As for Horton, his father will be backing the Trojans.
“Earlier on we used to joke about it, but now he’s all for me and getting a win,” Horton said.
23hKevin Gemmell and Erik McKinney