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John Houston and Christian Rector took different routes for their last USC vs.. UCLA competition

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The two captains had experienced it all. They had devised a coaching change. They had fought through injuries. They had won a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl.

Now, with those four odd seasons behind them and their final race at the Colosseum ahead, none of the only USC seniors in the defense have any regrets about the path they have taken to get here.

"I wouldn't change it for the world," said Christian Rector's defensive end.

"I feel like that makes me who I am," said linebacker John Houston. "I have become more like being a patient man who trusts the process, coming in and fighting through an injury, fighting to play a position and then working me up to the position where I stand today. It made me who I am. You can't take that from anyone. "

Rector and Houston went very differently on Saturday to their last matchup with UCLA.

After playing outside the linebacker last season, Houston moved in to play a more important role. The change paved the way for a career-best season for the fifth-year senior, as Houston reacted with 93 tackles, most by a USC defender this season and good for the fifth in the Pac-12.

"He has taken up the challenge with everything that goes with it," said defense coordinator Clancy Pendergast. "First and foremost, he has been a leader."

For Rector, his last season has drifted to much more frustrating territory. A high sprain that hurt him early in the season bothered him everywhere. In October, after a heavy loss for Notre Dame, the coaches suggested resting and recovering for a few weeks.

As the depth of the USC line of defense decreased, his absence was felt.

"He has made many great pieces for us over the years," said Pendergast. "We have missed him all year."

By the time he could come back, there were only three games left in the season. Then, Saturday against California, he was called up to focus on the first disc of the game and was ejected, leaving him with only one season in the regular season left in his career.

As he enters his last week, Rector has only 16 tackles and one bag this season.

"It's frustrating," Rector said, "but there are things that sometimes you can't do."

This week, the two single seniors of USC will go on defense to see whether they will close the year well. As their crosstown rivals come to the Coliseum, they take a running back that can stretch the defense and the kind of double quarterback with threats that USC attacks have given in the past.

Last season, UCLA & Joshua Kelley was undoing the USC for the defense, while rolling for 289 stormy yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was only for one game in Bruins' 34-27 win, but USC is well aware of the damage he has inflicted on the ground in the past.

"Stop the run," Houston said. "That is our big institution for the day."

Etc.

Running Vavae Malepeai re-practiced on Wednesday, after having also passed a full training on Tuesday. Malepeai, who has not played since 12 October, is leading the team in a hurry. … USC will request an evaluation from the NFL advisory committee on behalf of junior wideout Tyler Vaughns, who according to him "looks at warrants and discusses" leaves early for the NFL.

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