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Hogue Report: 5 keys to bye week

9/24/2012

With a road game a week from Thursday against Utah in Salt Lake City, it may only be half of a normal bye week, but it comes at a good time for USC. Here are five things the Trojans should be doing during the time off:

1. Heal Up: The Trojans are battle-weary. They entered the season with a few players banged up from fall camp and have had several others go down in the first four games. With USC’s policy on injuries, we may not know the extent of some of the injuries, but clearly pivotal players like Khaled Holmes, Marcus Martin, Xavier Grimble and Hayes Pullard -- among others -- are hurting. Whether some return by next Thursday or the week after at Washington, this team needs to nurse its wounds and get as healthy as it can as quickly as it can, and nothing helps that more than a bye week.

2. Think Positive: If the bye would have come after Stanford, it would have been horrible timing. But the Trojans were able to get that taste out of their mouths by soundly beating Cal. The defense was terrific, with the front four -- having faced a lot of criticism after the Stanford loss -- absolutely dominating the Bears. Morgan Breslin, George Uko, Wes Horton, Leonard Williams -- for them, it was likely therapeutic. And both Lamar Dawson and T.J. McDonald had solid games, the latter with a key interception when it counted most. As for the offense, coach Lane Kiffin allowed the offensive line to get some redemption as well, coming at the Bears with 40 rushing attempts and almost 300 yards on the ground. Those good feelings will be welcomed as the Trojans get a small bit of time to rest up, and maybe get a little swagger back in the process.

3. Keep Improving: This team obviously has the potential to win every game it plays, but whether it will or not will depend on whether or not it can truly start hitting on all cylinders, which it hasn't done for a complete game yet. Bye weeks are great opportunities for young players -- of which, the Trojans have as many as anyone -- to get some reps and start eliminating some of the errors and improving some techniques to make every play just a little bit better. The learning curve is steep with young players, and the difference in play from Week 1 to Week 5 to Week 10 can be enormous.

4. Don’t Forget the Big Picture: When you are in the midst of games every week, you can’t think about the big picture. It’s all the one-game-at-a-time mantra, and thinking only of the next opponent. But this is USC, and these players are here to play for championships. It’s what motivates them. It’s what their friends and families talk about. There is no avoiding it. So while the players will have to get back to thinking about one game at a time soon, there is a window here where Kiffin can remind his team that it is still in the heart of every conversation it wants to be in, and in some ways -- if you look at history -- it may be able to control its own destiny. And after that brief reminder, it's back to work.

5. Have Fun: Remember Matt Barkley and that made-in-California smile we saw so much last November? We need to see that again, as do his teammates. The pressure was bound to be immense, as the hype was unbelievable and the weight of the team, the program, the athletic department -- all the things Barkley has willingly carried -- has clearly been stifling. It’s time for Barkley to lay all that down and realize he has his last nine games with his best friends. Whatever happens, happens. Every USC fan knows Barkley will give his best effort in every game. That’s not in question. But he needs to have fun again, and his team will follow and join him. And, by the way, they'll play their best football.