In USC’s 43-42 loss to Utah last Saturday, Tuasivi Nomura was thrust into a role with the defense he hadn’t yet filled this season.

Primarily a special teams and defensive role player through the first six weeks of the year, Nomura played a season-high 35 snaps for the Trojans as Shane Lee played through injury, Ralen Goforth left with an injury, and Eric Gentry hobbled off with an injury. The redshirt junior linebacker from Corona finished with five tackles.

“Another guy whose emergence both on special teams and defense has been very important,” coach Lincoln Riley said on Tuesday.

Riley called Gentry and Goforth day-to-day. A bye week immediately after the loss certainly helped in their recovery from various injury concerns. Riley was asked about depth issues at linebacker and seemed to shrug off the question.

The Trojans’ head coach doesn’t reveal much when it comes to injuries. The Trojans might have their full complement of linebackers this weekend against Arizona. They might not. We likely won’t know for sure until 4 p.m. PT on Saturday when the two sides kick off against each other.

In the interim, though, Riley can take some comfort in knowing the Trojans have Nomura.

“He’s one of our toughest, most physical players on the football team,” Riley said. “You feel his physicality and his speed and his decisiveness on the field. … He’s been a guy who’s played through some pretty tough stuff that not a lot of people would play through earlier in the season, which was pretty impressive. He’s about as tough as they come.”

Riley remembered a moment during the Fresno State win on Sept. 17,  of Nomura coming off the field after making several stops and revealing he’d just played through a compound fracture in his hand.

“He broke his finger in the middle of a play. Actually like a compound (break), like a bone sticking out,” Riley recalled. “Didn’t tell anybody. Played three more plays with a bone sticking out of his finger. He did, it was unbelievable. And played well!

“He had two tackles, then finally comes over and tells somebody. We obviously couldn’t tell from the sideline. I mean… He stayed out there and played. It tells you about his toughness and how much he wants to do well for this team.”

As Riley establishes a championship culture in Los Angeles, players like Nomura will be invaluable. Even if the Trojans are healthy at linebacker this weekend, expect to see a bit more of Nomura going forward.