LOS ANGELES -- If there's a matchup to watch in Saturday's game with Arizona, check out the battle between two talented players in USC sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey and Arizona senior wide receiver Juron Criner. It should prove to be an interesting contrast in styles, the smaller and quicker Robey (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) against the bigger and stronger Criner (6-4, 215).
"Criner brings a lot of physicality," Robey said. "He blocks and he plays hard on every play. It will be a great matchup for me to go against him; it will be important for me to keep my leverage with his size and speed."
Robey also said it will be critical for the Trojans to disguise their defenses because of the savvy quarterback on the other side of the ball.
"Nick Foles is really good about checking to the hot receiver," Robey said. "You can tell he's been around a while."
The USC defensive line has 3.5 sacks this season. The Arizona offensive line features five new starters and has given up 12 sacks through its first four games. It stands to reason that the Trojans, who have five players along the line with starting experience, will pin their ears back in hopes of putting pressure on Foles.
"We've got to collapse the pocket," junior defensive end Wes Horton said. "Foles is a gunslinger. He gets rid of the ball quick. Last year we got close to him a lot but not good enough. This year we think we have the guys to get him."
Last week the Trojans ran the ball well in the third quarter, and one of the guys leading the way was linebacker Ross Cumming. Cumming is a standout special teams player who hasn't seen much time in the linebacker rotation, but the coaches appreciate his physical style of play. They have experimented in practice with Cumming in a fullback/H-back kind of role, and that has paid off so far.
"I like the physicality of playing fullback," Cumming said. "It's kind of like coming down on kickoff coverage, it's just a little more complex. It's been fun to get out there and get some time. I've got to credit coach [Lane] Kiffin for coming up with the scheme that allowed me to do it."
Farmer at RB
It came as a surprise to many USC fans this month that wide receiver George Farmer was planning to redshirt. Farmer came to the Trojans as a five-star recruit, and even Kiffin pegged him as the freshman most likely to play a role right away.
Farmer struggled in the early weeks of camp, and the decision was made to redshirt him. Since that point, however, Farmer has stepped up his play on the practice field. Kiffin said there are no plans to burn his redshirt year, but there was an update on Farmer from practice this week.
"We're going to give George a look at tailback," Kiffin said. "We're not moving him from receiver; it's just something we're going to take a look at."
Farmer said he was open to the move.
"I am committed fully to the switch," said the former Gardena (Calif.) Serra star. "I'd still like to play some receiver. If they flank me out there, with Robert and Marqise on the outside, it'll be good, because I'll have a linebacker covering me. If it's going to help the team, I'm down for it."
It makes sense to take a look at this right now. Farmer has a unique skill set with his size (6-1, 205) and speed, and perhaps he can contribute in a big way at tailback. If not, he can always be moved back to receiver in plenty of time for spring practice.
Cornerback Isiah Wiley had three pass breakups and a tackle for loss this week in practice and continues to make progress as he transitions from junior college ball. Wiley was originally supposed to enroll at USC last January, but that was delayed until the fall and he was forced to miss spring practice as a result.
Special teams success
Freshman place-kicker Andre Heidari has converted 5 of 6 field goal attempts this year and his coming off his best performance of the season last week against Arizona State.
Heidari had three field goals, put multiple kickoffs into the end zone and didn't allow the Sun Devils' kickoff return team to advance the ball past the 27-yard line.
"ASU is really good in kickoff coverage, so we did a good job holding them," Heidari said. "My goal is to always put every kickoff into the end zone, but in that game the air was just different; it was thinner, and the ball went further."
The strong start by a freshman in a role as important as kicker is yet another example of the improved special teams play with special teams coach John Baxter.
"I think special teams are doing well," Heidari said. "I screwed up one kick early on, but I'm not looking back. Kicking isn't a pressure situation, every kick is the same. I just go out there and do my thing."
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.