USC Trojans: Wes Horton

The USC Trojans had four players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, increasing their record total of drafted players to 480.

It was a mixed bag for the Trojans in this draft, as they did not have a player selected in the first round -- USC also holds the record for most first-round NFL draft choices -- and there was also the public free-fall for quarterback Matt Barkley.

[+] EnlargeRobert Woods
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesWith the success Robert Woods had against Syracuse, it's no surprise Bills coach Doug Marrone made him the first Trojan off the board in the 2013 draft.
There had been hope that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods would go in the opening round, but the first day passed with both players undrafted.

Woods didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, though, as the all-time leading USC receptions leader was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 41 overall pick.

The Bills had selected a quarterback -- E.J. Manuel from Florida State -- in the first round, and they were also in the market for a No. 2 receiver to pair with Stevie Johnson. The fact that Woods was the next selection for the club after Manuel says a lot about how they feel about him as a potential long-term piece of the puzzle.

The new coach of the Bills, Doug Marrone, also faced Woods twice as the head coach of Syracuse and in those two games he saw Woods catch 18 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with a 76-yard run in 2012.

After Woods was picked, it was assumed by most USC fans that Barkley would be next off the board but, somewhat surprisingly, the next Trojan picked was safety T.J. McDonald, who went to the St. Louis Rams in the third round with the No. 71 selection.

There hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, a one-time All-American who saw his stock fall as a senior. You have to wonder how much two items affected that drop-off: the personal foul penalties as a junior that led to questions about his style of play and the overall defensive schemes implemented in 2012 by Monte Kiffin, which led to his resignation.

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Robert Woods, Matt Barkley AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRobert Woods and Matt Barkley put their best foot forward in front of scouts from 31 NFL teams during USC's pro day Wednesday.
The Trojans held their annual NFL Pro Day on Wednesday with plenty of buzz surrounding the workout of quarterback Matt Barkley.

Not only is Barkley a high-profile prospect at the most high-profile position, but pro day marked the first time Barkley had an opportunity to throw for scouts since injuring his shoulder in late November. Since the end of the season Barkley has been spending his time in the South getting treatment on the shoulder and working with former FSU quarterback Chris Weinke at the IMG Academy in Florida.

Before he could get to his throwing work, Barkley ran the 40-yard dash (a hand-timed mark of 4.87) and the shuttle drill, although he slipped in one shuttle rep and came up flexing his right hand. By the time his throwing session started, the hand was fine and all eyes were focused on him.

Barkley threw to a group of five primary players; wide receivers Robert Woods, Brandon Carswell and Travon Patterson, tight end Dominique Byrd and running back Curtis McNeal. It took about three or four throws to realize the shoulder strength was not an issue. There was zip on his passes and he was moving well on a variety of throws. There will always be nitpicking as part of the scouting process for little things that might not have gone as well, but for the most part it was a successful session, with Barkley hitting on 46 of 50 throws.

“It was a great day just to come out and throw the ball around,” Barkley said. “It’s good to be back on SC’s campus for something like this. The shoulder felt fine. The ball slipped on a couple but no worries about that. I’m not worried about anything.”

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The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

After not being able to take part in the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine due to an injured shoulder, this will be the opportunity for Barkley to prove to coaches and scouts that he is healthy and deserving of a first-round selection.

Because Barkley hasn't thrown since getting injured against UCLA, there are many questions about his draft status. Will he be a first-day pick or will he fall into the second round? So much will depend upon the health of the shoulder and how he performs in the roughly 60 throws he will make to Robert Woods. There are no questions about his leadership and character but, in the end, an NFL quarterback needs to be able to make the throws, and that is what Barkley will need to show.

Woods will be looking to prove something himself, as well. This is a deep receiver draft and most mock drafts have him going in the second round, but a recent mock draft from Charley Casserly at NFL.com had Woods as a first-round pick. The main goal for Woods in this workout is to get a 40 time below 4.5. He ran 4.51 at the combine and getting into the 4.4 range would mean a lot in the constant jockeying for draft position.

This will also be the first opportunity to conduct a workout for center Khaled Holmes, who withdrew from the Senior Bowl and then got hurt during the weightlifting portion of the combine.

Others working out will include a trio of defensive backs in T.J. McDonald, Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling along with defensive end Wes Horton and running back Curtis McNeal.

The USC Pro Day will be shown live on ESPN3 at 11:15 a.m. PT.

Exit interview: Wes Horton

January, 16, 2013
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Wes Horton Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWes Horton was a fixture in the USC starting lineup at defensive end, starting 32 games in his Trojans career.
Arriving at USC in 2008 from nearby Sherman Oaks (Calif.) Notre Dame, defensive end Wes Horton would eventually develop into one of the Trojans’ most consistent performers during his time on campus, making a total of 32 starts.

Possessing 6-foot-5, 255-pound size to go along with his unique athletic talents and strong technical skills, he amassed 43 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, including 5.5 sacks, in his redshirt senior campaign in 2012 despite being hampered by an injury early in the season.

Now gearing up for a shot at the NFL, Horton took time out of his busy schedule to talk to WeAreSC as he prepares to participate in the East-West Shrine Game, set to take place on Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

WeAreSC: Talk a little about what you’ve been up to since the season concluded.

Horton: Currently I’m down in Tampa, Florida for the Shrine game. I just had practice today, and it’s been a real tight schedule -- just crunching…meetings, practice and more meetings. It’s been pretty hectic, but it’s been fun. Before that I started training down in Irvine, where my agency is. So I’ve been lifting about two times a day, eating healthy and just trying to get ready for the next level.

WeAreSC: Talk about the opportunity to play in the East-West Shrine Game and what you’re looking to take away from the experience.

Horton: It’s really exciting. I definitely saw it as an opportunity to show what I can do from a pass-rush standpoint, a work ethic standpoint in practice -- going through drills hard, just pretty much competing with the best players in the country. And if I do well and win a lot of these one-on-ones, then I think it will do nothing but help out my stock.

WeAreSC: What is your major and your graduation status?

Horton: Human Performance -- it’s like Kinesiology. It’s a new major that USC came out with three or four years ago…I still have one more class to take -- one more four-unit class. I was debating about taking it this semester or not, but I’m obviously already going to miss the first week of classes, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s come up, so I’m planning on taking it next spring.

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With the 2012 USC football season now in the books, it’s time to look ahead to what will be an absolutely crucial spring for the program. Here are five key position battles to watch this spring as USC coach Lane Kiffin looks to find the right combination of talent to get the Trojans back on the winning track.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kennard
Jeff Lewis/Icon SMIAfter a year lost to injury, Devon Kennard hopes to reclaim his spot on the defensive line opposite Morgan Breslin.
Defensive End
The emergence of defensive end Morgan Breslin was the big story on defense for the Trojans in 2012, but with Wes Horton’s departure, the other side is wide open with a long list of suitors looking to make their presence felt. Devon Kennard -- who has 18 starts under his belt as a linebacker and end -- had a fantastic spring a year ago, but then he tore a chest muscle during offseason workouts and missed the entire season. Now healthy, this is the last chance for the senior to live up to all of the lofty expectations that followed him when he arrived at USC as a freshman in 2009. Challenging Kennard will be J.R. Tavai, an extremely athletic and versatile option who can play end or tackle, as well as Greg Townsend Jr., whose larger frame might pair up nicely with Breslin. Kevin Greene and Jabari Ruffin could also get looks here.
EL PASO, Texas -- Notes, quotes, and anecdotes from the Hyundai Sun Bowl after the Trojans' (7-6) 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech (7-7).

USC coach Lane Kiffin comments:

On the Game:

Turnovers and efficiency: “Obviously very disappointing day, coming down to turning the ball over and third-down efficiency really nullifying anything on offense. I thought our defense did a good job today. I thought they played very hard, obviously wore down a bit there late, but that’s to be expected when we turn the ball over that many times.”

Taking responsibility: How much is Kiffin taking the blame for the Trojans season? The coach said, "All of it, we can’t be 7-6 -- not at SC -- and that’s not our expectations and not why we came here and obviously we have some work to do to get that fixed. We are a young team, we started one senior on offense today, so we got to continue to recruit, continue to get better and obviously coach better.”

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson comments:

The defensive key: “Well, I think we stayed away from giving up the big play and we did well on third down. We created some turnovers and it was just one of those things where we were able to make some big plays. We played pretty consistently. It became a field position game.”

More notes and anecdotes

[+] EnlargeJamal Golden
AP Photo/Tim WarnerJamal Golden's punt return to USC's 1-yard line early in the third quarter helped put Georgia Tech up for good.
Key to victory: A 56-yard punt return by Georgia Tech’s Jamal Golden early in the third quarter set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Yellow Jackets quarterback Tevin Washington to help put Tech up 14-7.

The puzzle: Commenting on why the Trojans had such good bowl practices but came out flat, junior offensive tackle Kevin Graf said, “I don’t know why we played this way. We had a great week of practice. We’re a lot better team. I promise you this team will work hard to get back to where we belong.”

The offensive scoring average: The Trojans scored seven points against Georgia Tech. Prior to the game with the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans were averaging 34.2 points per game.

Out of the Woods: Junior wide receiver Robert Woods (33 yards on three catches) announced he was declaring for the 2013 NFL draft. Woods said, “Today is a sad day. I had my mind set that I was leaving, so I came into today’s game on a good note. The wind had an impact. Balls were sailing and curving. I was not frustrated with Max [Wittek]. It was the wind. I knew he could get the ball out there.”

Rush to defend: Prior to the Georgia Tech game, the Trojans defense was allowing a net total of 156.4 yards rushing per game. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans allowed 294 rushing yards.

It’s offensive: Prior to the Georgia Tech game, the Trojans were averaging 451.9 yards per game in total offense. Against the Yellow Jackets, the Trojans had 205 total yards.

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Hyundai Sun Bowl preview 

December, 28, 2012
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HYUNDAI SUN BOWL

USC (7-5, 5-4) versus Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3)

Where: El Paso, Texas

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Marqise Lee voted Pac-12 player of the year

November, 26, 2012
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USC receiver Marqise Lee was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, conference representatives announced Monday.

In a vote of the conference's head coaches, Lee was chosen as the top offensive player. He also was the only sophomore in the conference unanimously selected to the Pac-12 first team this season, during which he totaled 112 catches, 1,680 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns.

One other Trojan, senior center Khaled Holmes, was selected as a first-teamer. Receiver Robert Woods, defensive end Morgan Breslin, cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald were all second-team honorees, as was Lee as a return specialist.

Thirteen USC players earned honorable mention, with quarterback Matt Barkley, running back Silas Redd, tight end Xavier Grimble and offensive linemen Max Tuerk and John Martinez leading the way on offense.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona's Matt Scott, two quarterbacks who beat Barkley this season, were named the Pac-12's first- and second-team signal-callers, respectively.

Barkley will leave USC having never been a first-team all-conference performer, which is remarkable considering the conference records he owns for all-time passing yards and touchdowns.

USC defensive linemen Leonard Williams, George Uko and Wes Horton and linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard received honorable mention.

Williams also was named the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, after recording a 7.5-sack, two-fumble-recovery season.

Kicker Andre Heidari, punter Kyle Negrete and reserve linebacker Tony Burnett rounded out USC's honorable-mention recipients on special teams.

WeAreSC Roundtable 

November, 15, 2012
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What will be the key matchup for USC offense vs UCLA defense?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Jae HongAnother virtuoso performance by Matt Barkley against UCLA would go a long way in helping USC to a sixth consecutive win in the series.
Garry Paskwietz: I think it will be the USC receivers against the Bruins' secondary. Right now the Bruins rank No. 103 in the nation against the pass and that’s not where you want to be against Marqise Lee and company. This is a critically important game for Matt Barkley and it would be a great time for him to rise up and help deliver a win under these circumstances. There’s also been a lot of talk about the absence of Robert Woods from the SC passing attack recently, so don’t be surprised if he gets plenty of touches as well.

Greg Katz: The key match-up will be how the vaunted Trojans wide receiver corps produces against a very suspect UCLA secondary. In last season’s 50-0 trouncing of the Bruins, Matt Barkley tossed a school record-tying six touchdowns and threw for 423 yards. Unless the Bruins secondary has made unbelievable strides, the Trojans passing game is certainly capable of schooling the Bruins again.

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Scouting UCLA's Brett Hundley

November, 14, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin has found he keeps asking himself one question when watching UCLA's freshman quarterback, Brett Hundley, on film to prepare for the Bruins this week.

"How can that happen with a freshman?' " Kiffin asks himself.

Hundley is, indeed, a redshirt freshman starring for surprising UCLA this season. He has led the upstart Bruins to an 8-2 start with consistently solid and sometimes spectacular performances.

He has completed at least 64 percent of his passes in every one of his starts. In his worst game of the season, he still threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns on 31-of-47 passing (just with four interceptions.)

Hundley has gone five games without throwing a pick. USC's Matt Barkley, by contrast, has only gone three -- and has five multi-interception games. Hundley only has two.

"He's put together unbelievable numbers the whole season," Kiffin said of Hundley. "It's very unusual."

Kiffin has specifically credited three people with playing a role in Hundley's early success: UCLA head coach Jim Mora, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and, in a bit of a different way, running back Johnathan Franklin.

"They've done a great job with him," Kiffin said, speaking of Mora and Mazzone. "It's a great system. They've somehow managed him to be a freshman and not make a ton of mistakes and not turn the ball over a lot.

"A lot of credit to them and him. He's played really well."

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Trojans respect UCLA playmakers

November, 14, 2012
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Josh Shaw Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesJosh Shaw (right) has made a smooth transition from safety to cornerback for the Trojans this year.
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans continued to gear up for Saturday’s matchup with UCLA with another full-pads practice on Wednesday under beautiful sunny conditions on the USC campus. With the added storyline of a berth in the Pac-12 championship game on the line, coach Lane Kiffin continues to stress the importance of focusing on the task at hand.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement around it,” Kiffin said of this weekend’s crosstown clash at the Rose Bowl. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re preparing for the game and for the opponent, and not worry about the hype around it.”

But for players like senior safety T.J. McDonald, this is a game that always holds at least some extra significance that’s hard to ignore.

“It means a lot,” McDonald said. “It’s a rivalry game. You come here … you watch this rivalry, you know what it means, so you’ve just got to live up to those expectations. The great players that came before you played in this game, showed out and you want to be able to carry that tradition on. It means a lot, not just for us, but for the entire Trojan Family.”

More Hundley talk
Kiffin continued to praise the play of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Wednesday. Having completed 76.9 percent of his passes for 823 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions over his last three games, he’s been incredibly efficient as a redshirt freshman.

“Especially the way he’s played the last three games, he’s put together unbelievable numbers,” Kiffin said. “So I think you start watching [and ask], ‘How can that happen with a freshman?’ It’s very unusual. And they’ve done a great job with him. It’s a great system. They’ve somehow managed him -- to be a freshman, but not make a ton of mistakes and not turn the ball over a lot, which is unusual in a first-year system and a first-year quarterback. So, a lot of credit to them and to him.”

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Built to Perform: USC run defense

November, 14, 2012
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One of the key areas for USC in its upcoming game with UCLA is the ability of the Trojans to stop the Bruins’ run game.

UCLA runs a no-huddle, spread offense featuring senior tailback Johnathan Franklin, who is among the nation’s leading rushers, and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley, who has been very efficient this season. The ability to successfully run the football has been a big part of why the Bruins are 8-2 in the first year under coach Jim Mora. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is a familiar name for USC fans -- he was at the controls of the Arizona State offense in 2011 when the Sun Devils beat the Trojans in Tempe.

So far in 2012, the Trojans are giving up 3.9 yards per rush, while the Bruins are averaging 4.7 yards per rush with 45 attempts per game. USC has seen varying results against the run in recent weeks against teams who use a spread offense. The Trojans held Arizona State to just 71 rushing yards last week but gave up 321 yards on the ground two weeks ago to Oregon running back Kenjon Barner.

[+] EnlargeT.J. McDonald
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireUSC senior safety T.J. McDonald will be relied upon to help contain the running prowess of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
Here are three important ways the USC defense is built to perform in this game:

Stopping Franklin: The all-time leading rusher in UCLA history is also the nation’s No. 6 leading rusher with 1,270 yards. It will be critical for the USC defense to be aggressive and make early contact. The Trojans are No. 4 in the nation in tackles for loss, and that stat will be important to watch as USC hopes to limit the number of open-field runs for Franklin.

The Hundley factor: USC senior safety T.J. McDonald could play a major role here to help contain the young Bruins signal-caller. Hundley isn’t afraid to run the football -- he has 111 rush attempts -- and he has six touchdowns on the ground this year. He is a very steady player and hasn’t been rattled a lot this season but this game will be a step up on every level. Look for Monte Kiffin to use McDonald in different ways to confuse Hundley as much as possible.

Inexperience on the line: The Bruins start three freshmen on the offensive line, and you can be sure the Trojans’ defensive line will be looking to take advantage of that. USC is coming off one of its best D-line performances of the year, and Ed Orgeron’s group is getting production from multiple players right now. Senior end Wes Horton has battled back from an early-season injury to be playing at a high level, while Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams have been very effective as well.

The USC 10 -- Week 11 

November, 12, 2012
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Each week, the WeAreSC staff will update the rankings to reflect which USC players are making the biggest impact.

Here is the USC 10 following the 38-17 win over Arizona State:

1. Marqise Lee: The hits just keep on coming for Lee as he continues to build his reputation as one of the most dynamic players in college football. Not only did he have another big day of production, but he did it after suffering an allergic reaction prior to the game.

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Instant analysis: USC 38, ASU 17

November, 10, 2012
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With the Trojans ahead 21-17 late in the third quarter, ASU was driving and had the ball in USC territory. On third down, a short pass to an open Davon Coleman was missed and the Sun Devils went for it on fourth down, but Wes Horton got the sack on Taylor Kelly to force a change of possession. USC promptly scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and never looked back, easily cruising to a 38-17 win.

It was over when: With six minutes left in the game, Marqise Lee took a handoff on a reverse, changed direction, got a block from Matt Barkley and raced 38 yards down the sideline to the ASU 9-yard line. The Trojans ended up kicking a field goal on the drive to make the score 31-17, which is where the score stayed until a late USC touchdown.

Stat of game: Turnovers. ASU forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles) that helped keep the Sun Devils in the game early on. On USC's first offensive play of the game, Lee fumbled. ASU recovered it and quickly scored to take a 7-0 lead. The Sun Devils also added an interception return for a score when Alden Darby read a Barkley pass, stepped in front for the pick and went 70 yards for the touchdown. USC forced four turnovers of its own -- one fumble and three interceptions.

Game ball goes to: USC's defense. A unit that has been much maligned in recent weeks for poor performances against spread offenses put together a solid effort against the Sun Devils' version of the spread. ASU came into the game among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency and scoring offense but Kelly was held to 19-of-30 passing for 174 yards and a touchdown.

Unsung hero: USC running back Curtis McNeal took over as the starter with Silas Redd sidelined and ran for 163 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns and helped steady the Trojans' offense throughout the game.

Record performance: Barkley set the Pac-12 career passing yardage record. He now has 12,026 yards, breaking the previous mark held by Carson Palmer (USC).

What it means for USC: The Trojans' game against UCLA next week at the Rose Bowl will be a good old fashion rivalry game with high stakes on both sides, as the winner will represent the Pac-12 South in the conference title game.

What it means for ASU: A season that looked to be a rebirth under new coach Todd Graham has turned in the wrong direction with a four-game losing streak. All four losses were to ranked teams but that will be of little consolation to the Sun Devils.

The USC 10: Week 10 

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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Each week, the WeAreSC staff will update the rankings to reflect which USC players are making the biggest impact.

Here is the USC 10 following the 62-51 loss to Oregon:

1. Marqise Lee: The most dynamic player in college football had 12 catches for 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also adding a Pac-12-record 251 kickoff-return yards.

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