So, USC actually will have one of its best defensive players back in time for Oregon.
Linebacker Palaie Gaoteoete, who's missed the past two games with a high-ankle sprain, returned to practice Wednesday and said he'll play in Saturday's showdown against Oregon.
"I'm feeling great," Gaoteote said. "I felt like I was full go and ready to go."
It's a surprising but welcome development from the sophomore who has been USC's best linebacker this season. Gaoteote's ability to help in coverage while also generating pressure on the QB could prove instrumental against a balanced and efficient Ducks offense.
He wasn't sure how big of a role he would have this weekend, just that he'll play. Sources tell me a decision has yet to be made on a starter at weakside linebacker.
"When I got hurt, my motivation was to come back for Arizona," Gaoteote said. "If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But just being able to be mentally ready and prepared, game by game, that was my biggest focus. It just so happened that I'm coming back for the Oregon game."
Gaoteote said he was involved "a lot" in Wednesday's workout, which was in shells and shorts. He was limited to side work and rehab during Tuesday's practice in full pads, which was likely a precaution.
"It definitely makes you hungry being out there," he said. "Whatever I can do to help the team, I'm here for it."
He was injured Oct. 12 at Notre Dame, when he said another player was on his ankle and it twisted underneath a pile. Since then, middle linebacker John Houston has put together two of his best games, while Kana'i Mauga was the defensive MVP versus Arizona before struggling at Colorado.
Gaoteote has registered 47 tackles on the season, including two for loss.
USC is also getting defensive end Christian Rector and cornerback Chris Steele back from injury this week.
"He's a big part of a lot of success that we've had, played in a lot of big games," defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said of Rector. "He's obviously an important part of not only our team but our defense."
Rector has missed the past two games and three overall with a lingering ankle injury. He'll likely start at defensive end as Drake Jackson remains sidelined with an ankle injury of his own. What USC needs more than anything from its senior captain is a strong pass rush. Pendergast acknowledged the Trojans didn't apply enough pressure on the QB on first and second downs last week.
"We got to continue to be good with a four man rush," he said, "and playing better coverage will obviously help that too."
- Adam Maya is a USC graduate and has been covering the Trojans since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJMaya