USC's Smith-Schuster plans to play with pain again vs Buffs
LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California interim coach Clay Helton only needed one play to confirm JuJu Smith-Schuster's ability to play through injury last weekend. He won't even need that many plays this week at Colorado.
Helton knew his top receiver was ready to play when he was targeted on a simple out route last Saturday against Arizona. Smith-Schuster made a catch that was anything but ordinary, reaching out with his left hand and pulling the ball in for a spectacular 7-yard gain.
''That ball was designed to go to him,'' Helton said. ''He just reached up there and snags it one-handed, and I was like, `All right, he's great. He is good to go.'''
Helton presumably intended to test Smith-Schuster's injured right hand, which he broke in the Trojans' win at California. Smith-Schuster had surgery last week and was questionable to play against the Wildcats after not practicing in the days leading up to the game. He played and led USC with eight receptions for 138 yards with a touchdown in the 38-30 win.
It wasn't easy, as the sophomore had to go against his normal tendencies. Smith-Schuster couldn't use the palm of his right hand to catch passes and cradled the ball with his left arm to secure it. Smith-Schuster also missed time in the third quarter because of cramps, which he attributed to not being properly hydrated after not practicing during the week.
The Pac-12 leader with 1,094 yards receiving this season, Smith-Schuster expects to play for the Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) on Friday night at Colorado, indicating he will do so without pain medication.
''Just wrap it up and go out there and play again,'' Smith-Schuster said. ''I feel like it's just another day of football, going out there and dominating, not worrying about my pain.''
Smith-Schuster is not yet catching passes in practice and instead spent time running routes shadowing the offense. Helton said it is a chore to keep Smith-Schuster that limited.
''You literally have to pull him off the field. You see him bouncing around out here having a blast,'' Helton said.
While Smith-Schuster continues to recover, injuries are piling up elsewhere. Starting center Khaliel Rodgers is dealing with a shoulder injury, prompting Nico Falah and guard Viane Talamaivao to get reps snapping the ball. USC's top two centers, Max Tuerk and Toa Lobendahn, are out for the season with knee injuries.
Defensive lineman Claude Pelon was carted off the field after suffering an injury near the end of practice Tuesday. Safety Leon McQuay III and running back Tre Madden are questionable to play with knee injuries, while linebacker Cameron Smith should be good to go against the Buffaloes after having an MRI on his shoulder.
''We have a whole team's worth of bumps and bruises that we are fighting through,'' Helton said.
Smith-Schuster hoped his impressive performance despite being at less than full strength would inspire others to play through pain.
''A lot of freshmen that look up to me were like, `Dang, you're crazy. I don't know how you do it.' Even the older guys, too,'' Smith-Schuster said. ''Knowing we've only got three more games this season, you give it your all no matter what happens.''