October 2, 2008

Practice Insider: Tupou gets the nod

Christian Tupou will be playing in just his second home game Saturday at the Coliseum. It'll have him amped up.

The Trojans are coming off their first loss of the year, and that should have Tupou excited.

They're playing No. 23 Oregon, the same team Tupou's older brother Fenuki stars for. And Tupou's starting for the first time in his college career.

It wouldn't be wrong to think USC's freshman nose tackle has been bouncing off the walls at Howard Jones Field. Instead, though, he's handling the promotion like a veteran.

"I had the whole week to reflect upon this opportunity," Tupou said. "I thought about it, and I can't come ready to play against my brother or play against the best center (Max Unger). I need to be ready to just play according to our game plan.

"I need to stick to the techniques we've been taught this week."

Tupou and Clay Matthews will start on the defensive line in place of Averell Spicer and Everson Griffen.

"They are guys that are filling in for guys that have made mistakes in the past," defensive end Kyle Moore said. "Both of them are in there because they haven't been making that many mistakes.

"They've earned it. We'll see what happens in this game, and we'll see if anyone can keep that spot."

The coaching staff chose to get Tupou the start in part because of a pair of personal foul penalties Spicer earned in crucial moments late in the first half at Oregon State.

With a door now open, defensive line coach David Watson said Tupou's already begun to walk through.

"He will take advantage of this opportunity as a starter," Watson said. "He already showed us that this week with how hard he's worked to get ready. "

Tupou's impressed USC head coach Pete Carroll with his continuing improvement.

"He's been a work in progress throughout. He's always given us great effort. He's worked real hard," Carroll said. "The growth has been with his technique. We needed to bring him along and get him playing with consistency for the ways we play our nose tackles.

"He's doing a good job. He's always given us great effort, and that's why we're excited to have him on the field."

Step up strong

With Brian Cushing moving to middle linebacker for the No. 9 Trojans' game with the Ducks Saturday, Carroll will turn to Michael Morgan for big plays and big reps.

"He's a really good athlete. He's really fast and he's been really good on special teams. He's a big hitter," Carroll said. "Everything he's done, he's done fine. He's new and he's inexperienced.

"We'll have to watch him."

Morgan's been on the receiving end of a heavier workload in practice this week, and his body has paid the price. He said he's sorer than he's been at any other time this year, but it's been nothing a few ice baths couldn't cure.

And Thursday, Morgan said he got his legs back. After being named the starter, his play has received more attention from the coaches and the media.

"It feels good," Morgan said. "I'm ready to play football though. All of this doesn't really mean much to me. I just want to get out there and make some plays.

"I just want to play fast and play with energy and excitement, and we'll be all right."

Extra Points

• Carroll said the team has a lot of respect for Oregon and the Ducks' success, and in turn, have embraced the challenge of playing them with a great week of preparation.

Rey Maualuga has not been completely ruled out of playing Saturday, and he dressed for Thursday's practice. His participation was minimal, and it seems USC's moving forward without him.

Zack Heberer said he hopes to return from his turf toe by next week. Alex Parsons will start in his place at right guard.

Vidal Hazelton said he planned on speaking with Carroll Thursday night about his redshirt situation, though he said it seems unlikely. He did not practice because of an upset stomach.

Rhett Ellison is out for an unknown amount of time with a stress fracture in his foot.

• Despite some issues at Oregon State, Joe McKnight will return punts Saturday.

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