Trojans safeties set career highs with legend Troy Polamalu in attendance
Legendary USC safety Troy Polamalu met with the Trojans before the game Saturday and helped lead a pregame routine he borrowed from his storied career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Fittingly, current star safety Talanoa Hufanga then promptly went out and racked up a career-high 18 tackles -- the most by a Trojan since, yep, Polamalu had 20 against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.
"I got to say hi, introduce myself and it's truly an honor," Hufanga said afterward. "It was great. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, dream come true, been looking up to him for a long time now."
It gets even better, though. Fellow safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, who is Polamalu's nephew, also set a career-high with 12 tackles in the 52-35 win over UCLA.
Pola-Mao's in-season tackling turnaround has been a positive for the Trojans. He might have been the defense's most frequent offender with missed tackles or poor tackling form earlier in the year, but he's been a distinctly different player down the stretch.
He talked last week about that maturation -- including being pulled out late in the win at Colorado as DBs coach Greg Burns re-emphasized corrections on his tackling angles -- and Pola-Mao touched on it again Saturday.
"I noticed it myself. My coaches pushed me and they challenged me to just be better tackling. As a safety, I have to be the last line of defense -- I have to make tackles," he said. "I was just disappointed in myself for the first couple game that I just was messing up. I focused on it in practice, worked on my angles, worked on my tackling, just making chest tackles."
Pola-Mao had a number of key stops Saturday, including an early prime example of his improvement in that area. On a third-and-1 on UCLA's first drive, Pola-Mao chased running back Joshua Kelley out to the right and brought him down cleanly shy of the first down. (UCLA would punt but get a first down nonetheless on a running into the kicker penalty.)
Overall, Hufanga (76) and Pola-Mao (68) rank second and third on the Trojans in tackling. Hufanga, who also had 2 tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup Saturday, has 5.5 tackles for loss overall, 2.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups and a forced fumble, while Pola-Mao leads the team with 4 interceptions to go with 4.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks.
Here was Polamalu's address to the team Saturday. The two-time All-American who starred at USC from 1999-02 was honored on the field during the game as he's set to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
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