Stepp Ready for Bigger Role

Ryan Kartje (LA Times)  —  One minute remained in South Bend, and Fighting Irish defenders stood stacked at the goal line, but Markese Stepp made his intentions clear to his quarterback. He wanted the ball.

“He was fired up,” Kedon Slovis recalled of the USC running back. “The box is loaded, and we gave it to him, anyway.”

In his anticipated return to the state of Indiana, Stepp wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to punch in that score, even if it was ultimately for naught in USC’s loss. But now, with Vavae Malepeai out for the foreseeable future following knee surgery Tuesday, there should be plenty more where that came from.

Stepp is expected to split carries with junior all-purpose back Stephen Carr going forward. But considering Carr’s skill set, it’s likely Stepp takes the lion’s share of work between the tackles and in short yardage. With more than 14 touches per game to replace in Malepeai’s absence, his role could expand substantially.

How those carries will actually be split is to be determined. Neither Carr nor Stepp has carried much of a load in their collegiate careers.

Carr probably will play more in passing situations, but he hasn’t received more than nine carries in any game this year. Only once in three seasons has he had more than 14.

Stepp has double-digit carries in each of his past two games, but he admitted he was winded at times Saturday. The extra work, he says, has helped him find a groove over that stretch, as he’s averaging nearly eight yards per rush.

“The more carries any running back gets, the better rhythm they get,” Stepp said.
Establishing that rhythm moving forward will be crucial for an offense that’s turned to the ground more than expected recently as opposing defenses drop eight into coverage on a week-to-week basis. Those light fronts should continue Saturday against Arizona, which could use the extra defensive backs to help bolster a pass defense that ranks 11th in the Pac-12.

As such, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said the Trojans planned to use Stepp and Carr “just like we did with Carr and Vae early on.” Over the first three games, Malepeai carried the ball 56 times.

“When they’re fresh, we’ve got two pretty special backs playing there,” Harrell said. “If they get a little gassed, we’ll figure it out.”

As far as Stepp is concerned, he can carry the ball more than he has thus far.

“Whatever the coaches give me, I think I’ll be able to handle it,” Stepp said. “We’re all going to have to step up.”

Injury updates

After returning to health during its week off, USC’s defense gutted through injuries as best it could last against Notre Dame, as linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and cornerbacks Olaijah Griffin, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and Greg Johnson all played through pain down the stretch.

None of those four practiced Tuesday, and it’s possible that none will be available when USC takes on Arizona.

Gaoteote is “doubtful” with a high ankle sprain, coach Clay Helton said, and given the lingering nature of the injury, it could keep the linebacker out longer than this week. Without him, Kauni Mauga will step into a significant rotation role.

Greg Johnson (left), the starter at nickel corner, injured his shoulder against Notre Dame and was ruled out by Helton on Tuesday. He could face an extended absence, as Helton said he “needs time for rehab.”

The status of USC’s two starting outside corners, Griffin and Taylor-Stuart, is less certain. Griffin aggravated the lower back injury and bulging disk that held him out against Washington. Taylor-Stuart has a high ankle sprain, which Helton said was further along than the one suffered by Gaoteote.

USC had some hope that senior captain Jordan Iosefa might return this week to bolster the linebacking corps. But Helton said he expects Iosefa to continue sitting out.

latimes.com

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TrojanDailyBlog members  —  Always feel free to add information or topics to the TDB which doesn’t pertain to any particular moderator post.

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Jamaica
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Dumb, stupid and oblivious to reality in actually believing a RB can’t carry the ball anymore due to being gassed after running some 10 plays total? Only Clay Helton would be ignorant enough to say it out loud to a group of reporters. I hope the USC administration is proud of their man who they are paying millions to for saying something so outlandish…..

illinoisusc
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The Arizona game seems to be a win but with our backfield as young and inexperienced as it will be after all the injuries and missing our better LB I wonder. It could turn into a shoot out with one of those really high scores on both sides.

PN4SC
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I believe the reason Helton makes nonsensical statements about the great state of USC Football is because he knows how close he is to being fired, and by spouting BS, he hopes he can buy more time.
I can’t wait for him to be relieved of his duties. His incompetence knows no bounds.

Steveg
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There is no question Stepp needed a blow after carrying half the ND defense for 15 yards. That he was gassed seriously during the game to me is something way off base for Harrell to say. Running backs thrive on getting the carries, they know they can be gassed after the game.

Scipio
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Up front I want to apologize for this post not being relevant to today’s topic. It has to do with something CCH said several weeks ago that has just stuck in my gut when he discussed being a father figure to the players. When my four sons had all reached a point in their lives when I deemed them to have reached manhood, I took them out to lunch and declared to them I regard them as men now, and explained why. I then gave all of them a plaque with the words Gen. Douglass MacArthur wrote in May 1952… Read more »

Paul_Muad_dib
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Those “warriors” are exactly where they want to be apparently…

USCJojo
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I was under the impression Stepp didn’t get much playing time was the fact (according to coaches) he couldn’t block or catch the ball well. He’s figured it all out now or are the coaches now forgetting all that? Sounds like they were probably just playing favorites.

LawyerJohn
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I don’t know if anybody noticed the blogger Allen Wallace (AW) and I getting into it a bit the past weeks. But one poster did– Jamaica wrote: “Allen, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you sound a lot like Scott Wolf,” to which AK vehemently objected. You be the judge: LJ: SC is the only sports team I follow. But my writing about the team, whether positive or negative, is not going to change a damn thing, so I accept the present reality for what it is, and hope for a better tomorrow. AW’s retort: “So I accept the… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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John, Allen and I get into it regularly. This Blog is great and I am personally grateful for both Allen and John taking the time to provide it. Be careful of falling into Shakespeare’s trap of protesting too much!

RialtoTrojan
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I am not defending anyone here, but has Scott Wolf ever answered anyone in his blog. In the void left by his predecessor, Michael Lev, he picked up the slack. However Michael was an active participant and did a whole lot of editing before he posted. Here If someone disagrees I can at least ask for an explanation. When I type my fingers are always four or five words behind my thoughts, so I may not get everything in correctly (like gentile warts the other day) So I know I can rephrase a position without feeling picked on. As far… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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Hold it, Rialto–gentile warts are not really a thing?

RialtoTrojan
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They are, but when describing the special teams coach I should have used the term genital warts. Sometimes when I’m being funny I am funnier than I want to be.

TrojanMPA90
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This blog is so much better than Wolf’s one. His was full of trolls. Everyone here respects each other’s opinions and we all want USC to be successful because we’re either lifelong fans or alumni like myself. I am so happy Allen and John started it.

Paul_Muad_dib
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Can’t we all just get along?

PN4SC
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How you could compare this blog to Wolf’s, is beyond me. Wolf hates SC, and always paints the school in as negative a light as possible.He is a horrible “journalist. On the other hand, this is a great spot to get real information, both positive and negative. I have no idea where you are coming from.

RialtoTrojan
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Maybe it’s me but even thinking about a running back being gassed makes no sense in football. After all what is their job? Thinking on how or why a healthy player would get tired I realized something that is another needle in my Helton Voodoo doll. He runs such soft practices that running backs get gassed in a game. There’s no accountability for mistakes, so no wind sprints and even if there was some accountability there would be a lighter punishment, think five updowns. The sooner we turn the page on this chapter of sloppy ball the better. Still I… Read more »

Jamaica
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The team undergoes the symptoms of its headcoach’s mis-management.