USC’s Mekhi Blackmon answers the call at cornerback

LOS ANGELES — When USC went about assembling its expansive transfer class this offseason, it added several pieces from throughout the Pac-12. One from Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Arizona State. And two from Colorado.

In Saturday’s win over Stanford, one of those Colorado transfers, cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, showed why that infusion of not just experience, but Pac-12 experience, was so important.

In the first quarter on fourth-and-goal, Blackmon was lined up against 6-foot-3 receiver Elijah Higgins along the left side of the field. After the snap, Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee threw the ball up, trusting Higgins to win the jump ball against the 6-foot Blackmon.

The thing is, when Blackmon played Stanford with Colorado in 2020, Stanford tried the same play against him twice. Both times, Blackmon walked away with a pass breakup.

“I anticipated the same thing coming this past time and when he threw, I was able to tip it up,” said Blackmon, who came away with the touchdown-saving interception.

Blackmon entered the game understanding he would receive a lot of action. Stanford likes to throw on the boundary and take advantage of its big receivers, and his coaches prepared him an increased workload.

Indeed, Blackmon was targeted 10 times against Stanford. He allowed three receptions but allowed only 10 yards after the catch. He was called for three pass interferences, but head coach Lincoln Riley described at least one as “textbook” coverage.

Blackmon said it was the most he’s been tested in a game, but he was happiest with one stat.

“Didn’t give up any touchdowns, so that’s a good one,” Blackmon said.

With a roster full of young cornerbacks, USC needed a veteran who could step in and be the clear No. 1 guy. And the Trojans feel like they have that in Blackmon.

“Even the couple that were caught on him were extremely competitive plays. So we like him matched up against anybody,” Riley said. “The guys he goes against here in practice are good players and it’s a battle every single day. That’s a one-on-one matchup that we’re very, very comfortable with.”

Blackmon is also serving as a mentor for the younger guys in the room, with Ceyair Wright and Jacobe Covington coming to him regularly for advice. He has his methods, such as being physical and aggressive when matched up with bigger receivers to make them uncomfortable.

And against Stanford, he was able to show the most important lesson: moving on from successes and failures.

“That’s the life of a DB,” Blackmon said. “I got the pick in the first quarter, so the pick doesn’t matter anymore. I could have been scored on, the pick is erased. You gotta move on to the next play. What you did before doesn’t matter.”

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Rush edge Romello Height (shoulder) had his arm in a sling at Tuesday’s practice. Riley said the plan is to take things easy with the Auburn transfer early in the week and see where he’s at as the Trojans approach Saturday’s game against Fresno State.

USC will take a similar approach with left tackle Courtland Ford (ankle), though Riley sounded more optimistic about Ford’s likelihood of playing Saturday.

“He’s progressed nicely since the game so I think he’s on a good track,” Riley said.

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