Drew McAllister made a nice play late in practice Wednesday, leaping over Kyle Prater to intercept a Cody Kessler pass on the west end of Howard Jones Field.
Whether he stayed in bounds was up for debate. Whether McAllister will play this week no longer is, as Trojans coach Lane Kiffin promised Wednesday that the junior safety would see his first defensive action of the season against Syracuse on Saturday, subbing in for starter T.J. McDonald early on.
"We are going to play Drew," Kiffin said after practice. "We've already told Drew we are going to play him in the third or fourth series."
The reasoning appears to be a combination of two factors. First, this team is hurting for big plays on defense and McAllister is the closest thing to an instant interception Kiffin and his staff have available. Second, McDonald needs a break. He's been playing non-stop so far while Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright have shuffled in and out at strong safety and stayed much fresher.
"We've played nobody else at that spot," Kiffin said. "T.J.'s taken every snap through two games."
McAllister, 21, hasn't played a defensive snap while fully healthy since December 2009. Hip problems have plagued him since then, forcing him to sit out of the last two spring practices and most of the 2010 season.
But, even when healthy he never really got a chance to compete for a starting spot this fall. It was clear that Kiffin and the coaches wanted a different type of player to start across from McDonald, a tackle-first type of player, not an interception-first type. And so Starling and Wright are sharing strong safety.
But McAllister makes a lot of sense as a sub for McDonald for 15 or 20 plays a game. If he ends up with an interception within those snaps, Kiffin looks like a genius. If he doesn't, McDonald will still be a lot fresher than in the first two games.
Another reserve defensive back scheduled to get time this week is Anthony Brown, who continued to take snaps as both the second and nickel corner in practice Wednesday. Torin Harris and Tony Burnett had held those duties in the first two games, but Brown is probably going to push Harris down to fourth-corner status for this week's game at least.