Offensive line key for No. 14 USC’s new additions to succeed

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LOS ANGELES — Southern California spent the offseason loading up on offense, bringing in a group of transfers that included electric quarterback Caleb Williams, Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Jordan Addison and 1,200-yard rusher Travis Dye.

But the impressive collection of talent at the skill positions won’t matter if the 14th-ranked Trojans don’t have an offensive line capable of creating running lanes or giving Williams time to throw down the field.

“Day in and day out since spring, that’s been the challenge for us,” right guard Justin Dedich said. “We always have skill guys here, and championships are not won just because of them. It’s the dudes up front.”

Although USC made strides last year, allowing the third-fewest sacks in the Pac-12 and improving its rushing offense by 48 yards per game compared to the abbreviated 2020 season, it wasn’t enough to avoid a second losing record in four years, which cost coach Clay Helton his job.

USC’s statistical gains were canceled out by its inability to deliver in pressure situations. There were critical breakdowns on third down and in the red zone, where USC scored touchdowns on 28 of 51 possessions (54.9%).

Right tackle Jonah Monheim expects his group to perform better in those scenarios under new coach Lincoln Riley and offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who is also the offensive line coach.

“Regardless of what it is, confidence always comes from preparation,” Monheim said. “So knowing that we’ve prepared, knowing that we’ve been there in practice and we’ve done those short yardage, goal-line situations with the coaches in practice, things like that, and executing there, it’s trusting the training.”

Riley and Henson will mostly have to trust the offensive line they inherited.

There are just three new faces, with only Virginia transfer Bobby Haskins expected to contribute immediately. USC also added Cooper Lovelace from the junior college ranks and freshman walk-on Kilian O’Connor.

Haskins started 20 games in four seasons with the Cavaliers, but he missed all of spring practice because of ankle surgery. The fifth-year senior had to make up for lost time in training camp, where he is competing with redshirt sophomore Courtland Ford to start at left tackle.

“Bob’s been doing a great job since he came in during camp, you know, playing physical and doing good things when he’s playing,” Monheim said. “He’s a great addition to the unit.”

Riley said he would release a formal depth chart following practice, but Ford and Haskins could both be working with the starters in the season opener against Rice.

The rest of the line looks set with Andrew Vorhees at left guard, Brett Neilon at center, and Dedich and Monheim on the right side.

There is plenty of experience in that group. Vorhees, Neilon and Dedich are redshirt seniors. Monheim started seven games last season.

Dedich dutifully waited five years to become a full-time starter for the Trojans, and that dedication was recognized as he was named a team captain.

“That’s O-line mentality. One-on-one, you got to be gritty,” said Dedich, summing up the attitude USC will need from its linemen so its offensive stars can shine.

NOTES: Williams, Alabama transfer LB Shane Lee and DT Tuli Tuipulotu were also voted captains by their teammates. “The team pretty clearly looks at those four as the guys they want to represent them,” Riley said.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.