USC: Anthony Sarao

USC offseason storylines: linebackers

May, 20, 2014
Here’s a look at some of the major offseason storylines for a USC linebacker corps that, under the direction of a new position coach in Peter Sirmon, performed at a high level this spring as a key piece of the puzzle in defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox’s 3-4 multiple-front scheme.

Pullard’s return provides boost in more ways than one

[+] EnlargeHayes Pullard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergHayes Pullard's decision to return to USC was huge for the Trojans due to both his play and his veteran leadership.
Shortly after Hayes Pullard announced that he would remain at USC for his senior season -- bucking the trend established by many of the other high-profile, draft-eligible players on the roster such as Dion Bailey and George Uko to leave early -- Wilcox referred to the veteran inside linebacker as the staff’s “biggest recruit,” and for good reason. After all, the Trojans not only regained the services of a stellar performer who has paced the defense in tackles in two of the past three seasons, they also held on to a leader who commands a level of respect from his teammates that would have been impossible to replace.

That fact was obvious during spring ball, when Pullard played an important role in making sure each member of the USC defense was on the same page as they acclimated to the new system. Pullard was a captain in 2013 who figures to hold on to that title in 2014. His return bodes well for the Trojans not only when it comes to the immediate success of the team but also in the long term as younger players like sophomore Michael Hutchings -- Pullard’s primary backup -- are afforded the opportunity to continue to benefit from the knowledge Pullard has to pass down for another season.

Can Dawson reclaim the starting spot at WILL?

One of the most tightly contested position battles leading up to the 2013 campaign was at WILL linebacker, with Lamar Dawson and Anthony Sarao duking it out for the right to line up alongside Pullard. Dawson ultimately came out on top, but he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee midway through the season, and it was Sarao who started the final seven games of the season.

Dawson is scheduled to be back in time for fall camp, but with Sarao performing solidly in his stint with the No. 1 unit -- both last fall and into the spring -- if Dawson wants his old job back, he’ll have to fight for it once again. Coming off a serious injury, however, it won’t be easy, particularly when you consider the fact he missed the entire spring -- a time when many of his teammates grew accustomed to the lightning-quick tempo of each practice under the new regime. And with Sarao having now proven himself to a certain extent, there’s reason to believe that Dawson, who has shined at times but underwhelmed at others, will need to come back in top form.

Competition at SAM one to watch

The competition between Dawson and Sarao at the WILL spot won’t be the only head-to-head duel to keep an eye on in fall camp. In fact, after what both Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell showed this spring, the battle at SAM linebacker has the potential to develop into one of the biggest storylines of fall camp.

Ruffin, a third-year sophomore, and Powell, a sophomore, each stood out throughout the recent March and April practice sessions, providing more than enough evidence to suggest this position should be in good hands, regardless of which player is in there at any given time. Both candidates are tremendous athletes who are strong at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage, and they possess the size and length head coach Steve Sarkisian has said he covets at the SAM position.

Powell, who plays with a ton of energy, began the spring as the starter, but by the later stages of camp it was the rangy Ruffin who was going with the No. 1 group. Still, there certainly isn’t a lot separating these two, and when the post-spring depth chart was released, both were listed on top with the trademark “OR” designation sitting between their names, meaning this competition is still very much ongoing. It figures to remain that way through fall camp, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both of the up-and-comers play quite a bit in the fall.

Newcomers ready to join the fray

While USC possesses a solid collection of talent up and down the two-deep at linebacker, with the scholarship restrictions put in place due to NCAA sanctions the Trojans still don’t have what you’d consider ideal depth just yet. That said, a number of outside linebacker/defensive end types are set to arrive on campus this summer who will help remedy that issue, and it will be interesting to see if any are capable of jumping right into the mix.

Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne’s Uchenna Nwosu is a former safety with 6-foot-3, 210-pound size who looks tailor made for the SAM linebacker position, although he’s athletic and versatile enough that he could even conceivably play on the inside. Olajuwon Tucker, from local powerhouse Gardena (Calif.) Serra, is another player who looks like a natural fit at SAM. Standing 6-3 and 220 pounds, he has the ability to cover a tremendous amount of ground in coverage, and he’s just as strong coming off the edge after the quarterback.

Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco’s Malik Dorton and Boise Timberline’s Don Hill, an early entrant who sat out spring ball with an Achilles' injury, are two more promising additions who could certainly factor in at SAM linebacker, although their larger frames suggest they might be better suited on the opposite side at rush end.

Trojans hitting stride at right time

November, 24, 2013
The Trojans arrived home in Los Angeles on Sunday morning in a good position.

Coming off a satisfying 49-27 victory over Colorado, USC extended its win streak to five games and an overall 6-1 record under interim coach Ed Orgeron. It might not have been enough to get the Trojans into the Pac-12 title game -- ASU clinched the berth from the south on Saturday night -- but that bit of news will do little to dampen the enthusiasm of the players and coaches.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiBuck Allen rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' win over Colorado.
There is too much else to celebrate about what this team has accomplished to worry about the title game. Yes, it would have been nice for the program, especially considering the Trojans have yet to play in the game as it enters its third year in existence. But to focus solely on the title game would be a disservice to everything else that has gone on with this program over the last seven weeks, a process that has seen the team continue to improve to the point where they are playing their best football of the year at a time when the Bruins come to the Coliseum.

Not only do the Trojans have a chance to put the finishing touches on an amazing in-season turnaround with a victory over UCLA, they also have a chance to right a painful memory from last year. In their first season under coach Jim Mora, the Bruins got the upper hand in 2012 with a 38-28 victory in the Rose Bowl, a win that was all the more notable considering USC had beaten UCLA 50-0 the previous year.

The Bruins have tried to use the momentum from last year to lay claim to ownership of Los Angeles, on the field and on the recruiting trail. The slow start to the USC season appeared to give credence to those efforts, all while UCLA got a big road win over Nebraska and had high-profile stars such as Brett Hundley and Anthony Barr.

Then came the coaching switch for USC and tides of change have swung local momentum back in favor of the Trojans. While USC has been thriving under Orgeron, the Bruins are 3-3 in their last six games. While the Bruins were once ranked in the top 10 and the Trojans were unranked, the two teams now stand right next to each other in the rankings at No. 22 (UCLA) and 23 (USC).

The USC players are certainly going to want revenge for last year. Trojans safety Dion Bailey said in the locker room following the Colorado game that he and his teammates needed to “remind the Bruins” of who runs the town. That bit of chatter about ownership rights of the city is always part of this rivalry so that’s nothing new, but it doesn't figure to be the overriding storyline of this game.

The ongoing saga of Orgeron and his pursuit of the full-time USC job will dominate the discussions leading up to Saturday night, but what shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is the fact his team is playing well right now, as good as he could have hoped for in such an important matchup.

USC has a quarterback in Cody Kessler who has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games while growing into a clear leader of the offense. The running game has received a huge boost from the play of Buck Allen, with his nine rushing touchdowns in the last four games and the splash of explosiveness he adds on the ground. There is also the thought in opponents' minds now of a 260-pound fullback in Soma Vainuku who can move pretty well, too.

On the outside there is still the reality that Marqise Lee is bothered by injuries but Nelson Agholor has stepped up to help pick up some of the slack. Lee would love to be back on the field against UCLA to help make up for 2012 in what will likely be his final home game at the Coliseum. At tight end, Xavier Grimble showed on Saturday what can happen when the tight ends are healthy and utilized the right way as he led the team with six catches.

The development of the offensive line has to be considered one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. It’s no accident when a team has four different running backs go for over 100 yards in a game, at some point the line is doing something right.

On defense, the USC front seven is starting to get recognition as one of the best units in college football. Leonard Williams is playing like an All-American and Devon Kennard isn’t far behind. It makes it all the more impressive to think the Trojans are doing this lately without leading sacker Morgan Breslin, primarily due to the fine play of J.R. Tavai.

There has been the dependable leadership from Hayes Pullard while Anthony Sarao stepped in for an injured Lamar Dawson without missing a beat. And what was once the biggest weakness on the team, the secondary play and coverage at the corner spot, has been stabilized by the physical presence of Josh Shaw while Bailey has been a playmaker at safety.

On top of all that, kicker Andre Heidari battled through his job being put up for grabs to nail the biggest kick of his career in the win over Stanford.

Those are a lot of positives for the Trojans, players who are rising up and playing well, and by no means are these the only players getting it done. Orgeron has provided substance to the loose atmosphere he has fostered with the Trojans and now he and his team have a chance to finish this magnificent regular season run in style.

Injuries mount heading into spring game

April, 12, 2013
The Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field one last time on Thursday before they take part in the team’s spring game on Saturday in the Coliseum. Donning shorts and helmets, the practice was the least physical of the last four and a half weeks -- a fact not surprising considering a total of 20 players have been ruled out for Saturday’s contest including Randall Telfer, Antwaun Woods, De’Von Flournoy and Jabari Ruffin -- all suffering injuries within the last week.

“There are some good parts about it,” said Kiffin in looking at the pros and cons of the physical way the team has practiced this spring. “I think that our guys that are still healthy are playing more physical than they were at the end of last year, and our front seven on defense is better because of it. But at the same time, obviously, we have a lot of players out.”

Jalen Cope-Fitzgerald
Courtesy of Erik McKinney, WeAreSC.comJalen Cope-Fitzpatrick will be the Trojans' only tight end in Saturday's spring game.
With Woods sidelined, it was Cody Temple who saw action with the first unit at nose tackle when the defense went to its base 5-2 look, but it’s the injury suffered by Telfer that will make perhaps the biggest impact in regards to Saturday’s game. Suffering a torn meniscus in his knee during Tuesday’s workout, he underwent surgery on Thursday and figures to be back in action in 4-6 weeks. But with Xavier Grimble already out with a chest fracture, the USC offense will have just one tight end at its disposal for the scrimmage in Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

“It’s been kind of the theme of the spring -- very physical -- as we come down to one practice left here,” Kiffin said. “I think you’ll still see the stars out there making plays. We’re just going to have to be creative because we’re not going to be able to go at the same speed in between series, and obviously we can’t have two teams with only one tight end, and all of our formations use a tight end, so we’ll figure it out -- probably just a little more time in between [each] series.”

Agholor and Lee at corner?

(Read full post)

Sarao, Dawson battle for LB spot

March, 29, 2013
Anthony SaraoGarry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comAnthony Sarao is locked in a competitive battle for a starting linebacker spot with Lamar Dawson.
With the USC defense making the switch to a 5-2 alignment under Clancy Pendergast, it was generally assumed that the most likely candidate to start alongside MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard at the WILL position would be junior Lamar Dawson, a starter since his freshman season, not to mention the owner of one of the most revered jerseys in program history -- No. 55.

When camp opened up earlier this month, however, it was redshirt sophomore Anthony Sarao who was lining up with the first unit, with Dawson running primarily with the second group.

Athletic and physical, Sarao first made a name for himself last season as a reserve and on special teams, and he excelled right from the get-go this spring, proving to be more than capable in his extended role. And while Sarao's strong play has continued throughout March, it’s been Dawson who has taken his game to a whole new level the past couple of weeks.

With both players establishing themselves as two of the defense’s most promising performers, the competition at WILL linebacker has developed into one of the spring’s more interesting position battles.

“I would think that Lamar Dawson is probably our most improved player on our team, and Anthony would be in the top five,” Kiffin said after Thursday’s practice. “They have both had great camps.”

It’s been Dawson, in fact, who has arguably been playing the best football of his career, showcasing improved instincts, speed and playmaking skills. Rewarded with a greater number of reps with the first team defense this week, Kiffin believes Dawson’s performance is directly tied in with his experience and physical maturity.

“I just think it’s a guy going into his third year and sometimes the light just clicks on and his body looks better, he’s getting stronger, he’s playing a lot lower, he’s playing more physical on special teams and on defense,” Kiffin said. “A majority of the guys take a couple of years, and we’re seeing that with guys like Lamar going into their third year who are really shining, and Anthony a year behind that is doing really well.”

With both Dawson and Sarao playing at such a high level, the competition for the starting WILL linebacker spot will likely extend into the fall. But as they continue to push each other, no matter who ultimately lines up with the first group this fall, it’s safe to say that the Trojans are likely to receive some very strong production out of the position.

Week Three: Spring depth chart 

March, 29, 2013
After a week away from action, the Trojans hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field on Tuesday as the spring slate of practices officially picked back up again. With a number of players coming off injuries trickling back into the rotation, not to mention some interesting position changes, there was plenty of movement up and down the lineup.

Max Wittek (6-foot-4, 235 pounds, RS So.) OR Cody Kessler (6-1, 215, RS So.) OR Max Browne (6-5, 215, Fr.)

Wittek stepped back into the rotation on Tuesday after missing three practices due to a sprained MCL, and while he showed some rust, USC coach Lane Kiffin is optimistic he’ll soon return to his old form, making this competition one to watch once again. Of the trio, Kessler continued to be the most consistent this week, with Browne showing promise at times.

USC spring practice report: March 14

March, 15, 2013
The Trojans put an emphasis on the offensive line during the Thursday full-pads practice, and coach Lane Kiffin liked what he saw.

“I thought the offensive line responded well today,” Kiffin said. “We had some issues on Tuesday with fumbled snaps and false starts, but the players came out today with good energy along the line of scrimmage.”

Kiffin also noted the continued strong play of quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne, who have been forced to take extra snaps this week as the only two available players at the position.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comWith Max Wittek sitting due to injury, Cody Kessler continued to impress in Thursday's practice.
“I thought both the quarterbacks did some good things today," Kiffin said. "Cody [Kessler] is really doing a great job and really comes alive in those team settings. Max [Browne] is moving around probably better than we thought this early from pocket movements and getting out of trouble for a tall, young guy."

Kessler hit Nelson Agholor against coverage from Morgan Breslin and the play went for a long gain. Browne had his best practice of spring and it included a pair of touchdown passes to Darreus Rogers. There was also a nice sequence for Browne where he had a pass attempt broken up by Leon McQuay III but he came right back on the next play for a nice completion to Buck Allen.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
It was a breakout day for Rogers. The first touchdown from Browne came on a short throw that he caught and put a spin move to get away from Ryan Dillard for a 20-yard score. The second touchdown was the highlight play of the day on a 40-yard pass reception at the goal line. He also had an impressive play with a sideline catch where it took multiple defenders to bring him down.

“Darreus Rogers had an unbelievable day,” said Kiffin.

Bucking the trend
Buck Allen hasn’t made a ton of noise during his USC career so far, but he’s quietly put together a pair of strong practices in a row. Allen finished the practice off right, first with a 4-yard TD run and then with a 20-yard touchdown dash off the left side on the final play of the day.

Injury update
Marqise Lee and Max Wittek continued to sit out practice with the knee injuries they suffered last weekend, and Kiffin said both will wait until the first Tuesday practice after spring break (March 27) to get back on the field. Silas Redd and Chad Wheeler both left the Thursday practice with knee injuries, while George Farmer had a shoulder injury. There was no word on the status of those three. Kevon Seymour sat out with an ankle injury and is day to day.

Xavier Grimble was named the MVP of the day with Rogers a close second. Kiffin gave a lot of praise to Grimble as a guy who is on his way to becoming a potentially great player. Grimble wasn’t even supposed to practice due to a rib injury but he went out and performed well, most notably in a blocking drill against the safeties.

Other highlight plays

Anthony Sarao and Lamar Dawson both had pass deflections. Dawson also added a big hit on Justin Davis. Kiffin said Dawson has put together five great practices in a row after changing his body in the off-season.

Sarao, Devon Kennard and Charles Burks each had a sack.

Leonard Williams had a pass deflection.

Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Damien Mama, Rey Maualuga and several players from Upland HS including safety Jeff Farrar, QB Tyler Hilinski and incoming ninth-grade receiver Nathan Telfer (no relation to TE Randall).

“The competition between Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer is good, no issues between the two of them. It’s kind of like how it was with Robert (Woods) and Marqise. They are really close, and they just push each other. They are almost exactly the same size, Randall is five pounds heavier and tests better.” -- Lane Kiffin

“This has probably been my best day here, but obviously still making a few mental errors. We slowed it down today and didn't install that much, so I was able to go out there and play. I felt like today I was the most comfortable and I think it showed in our offense as a whole." -- Max Browne

Silas Redd's family affected by Sandy

October, 30, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Superstorm Sandy has caused at least 30 U.S. deaths and billions in damages and left millions without power since hitting the Northeast on Monday.

The immediate family members of USC running back Silas Redd are among those in the dark.

Redd said Tuesday his parents' home in Norwalk, Conn., was without power last he had heard. The siding of his house was also beginning to come off, he said.

"Everyone's in the basement," Redd said. "But everyone's safe, and I'm happy about that."

He later posted to Twitter a picture of a fallen fence in his parents' backyard.

Norwalk, where Redd grew up, is about 45 miles northeast of New York City. The state of Connecticut declared a state of emergency on Saturday.

Redd said he was on the phone with his sister, Raven, until about 1:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday. He said he'd never dealt with a natural disaster of "this measure" while living in the Northeast but wished he could be with his family for support.

"This is pretty intense," he said. "You want to be there for them. But they understand."

USC linebacker Anthony Sarao told the school's official website that his family members had been evacuated from their Atlantic City-area home but were similarly safe.

No other Trojans hail from the states hit hardest by the storm.

The USC 10: Week 8 rankings 

October, 22, 2012
Whenever a team wins 50-6, as USC did on Saturday, there are always plenty of standouts. Here are the 10 players who made the biggest impact on the Trojans' rout of Colorado.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesSaturday's 50-6 win over Colorado was all about Matt Barkley and Robert Woods.
1. Matt Barkley: Setting the Pac-12 career touchdown mark -- and a single-game-completion-percentage record as well -- will earn Barkley the top spot once again.

2. Robert Woods: Barkley wasn’t the only record-breaker as Woods got into the action by setting the all-time USC receptions mark while also becoming the first Trojan to catch four touchdowns in one game.

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Kiffin: Revisiting Washington

October, 14, 2012
SEATTLE -- USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin addressed the media in his normal day-after game conference call Sunday night, discussing several topics pertaining to Saturday's 24-14 win over Washington and looking forward to the rest of the Trojans' season.

Here are notes and quotes from the call:

BCS standings of little importance

The first BCS standings of the 2012 season, released Sunday evening, feature USC as the No. 10 team, and predictably, Kiffin downplayed their importance.

"First off," Kiffin said in response to a question about them, "they do mean nothing right now, whether you want to believe that or not."

He did eventually allow for some value to be taken away from the news, saying USC obviously wants to be in the national-championship conversation "after two years of not being there" because of NCAA sanctions.

USC will face both Notre Dame and Oregon next month, and both teams are currently above the Trojans at No. 5 and No. 3, respectively.

So there will be opportunities to improve.

The three concerns

Kiffin had an interesting observation Sunday night. He said he has three primary concerns about his team with half the regular season remaining.

In order, they are: third-down efficiency on offense, penalties in all phases of the game and pass defense.

The first two are obvious. The third is less so, because the Trojans haven't had serious issues there this season.

But the competition is going to get tougher and USC's secondary will be facing significantly better passing offenses in the coming weeks.

"We know what's coming," Kiffin said.

Shaw not locked in yet

Redshirt sophomore Josh Shaw made his corner debut for the Trojans in the second quarter of Saturday's game and performed well, but Kiffin is not ready to hand the No. 2 corner job to him just yet.

Shaw was just the fourth corner on the depth chart entering the game but was pressed into duty when Torin Harris and Kevon Seymour went down with injuries. He "played about as good as you could expect," Kiffin said.

The second corner spot has been USC's most problematic position all season. Shaw spent some time at the position in fall camp but was almost exclusively a safety until the last week of practice.

He now has two interceptions on the season after recording one in the fourth quarter against Washington.

Final notes: Kiffin cited Bill Belichick's New England Patriots and their Sunday loss to the Seahawks in asserting that CenturyLink Field is a difficult place to play. ... Twenty-one of the Trojans' 22 sacks this season have been made by a defensive linemen. Backup linebacker Anthony Sarao has the other. Kiffin pointed out that stat Sunday. ... Left tackle Aundrey Walker's effort wasn't an issue against Washington, Kiffin said, but his technique needs work. Walker was whistled for a false start on multiple occasions. Freshman Max Tuerk could still challenge him despite switching to No. 84 and playing as an extra lineman/tight end on Saturday.

What went wrong against Stanford

September, 16, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -- To hear USC's players say it, there was no single thing the Trojans did wrong that caused them to lose Saturday's game to the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium.

"They played better football than us," quarterback Matt Barkley said when asked why USC lost.

"That wasn't it," running back Silas Redd said when asked if Stanford brought more pass rushers and pressure than USC anticipated.

"I don't think there's an answer," said linebacker Anthony Sarao. "If there was, we wouldn't have lost."

Oh, but there was. There most certainly was.

Because of poor play from their offensive line, the Trojans' biggest strength -- their elite passing game -- became below average in the second half of Saturday's game. The left side of USC's line was essentially a heavy turnstile for most of the game, with left tackle Aundrey Walker, left guard Marcus Martin and replacement center Cyrus Hobbi seriously struggling to stay in front of their opposition for more than two or three seconds at a time.

Asked if he felt he could have done anything differently on USC's final drive that ended in a turnover on downs, Barkley couldn't come up with anything.

"No," he said, shaking his head.

And so he wouldn't say it outright, but it was clear that he felt the offensive line wasn't at fault, too. If a quarterback does everything correctly and his receivers make the majority of plays presented them, drives don't end in failure.

But USC's final six drives -- taking up the entire second half -- all did. Because Barkley couldn't stay upright enough to deliver the passes he desired.

It wasn't a good performance for Barkley. But it's important to consider the offensive line play when looking his numbers: 20-of-41 for 254 yards and two interceptions, including 9-of-21 in the second half.

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Anthony Sarao back at home in New Jersey

September, 6, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC linebacker Anthony Sarao has exactly one college start to his name, but he's already somewhat of a local legend back home in suburban Atlantic City, N.J., because of where he went to school.

He's looking to add to that this weekend, when the Trojans take on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., two hours north of Sarao's hometown in Egg Harbor Township.

"Where I'm from, nobody really makes it," Sarao said Wednesday.

"But now everybody saw me on the field Week 1, so everybody's a USC fan, supporting."

Sarao, a redshirt freshman at USC, arrived on campus last summer as a hyped four-star linebacker, then earned scout team defensive player of the year honors while redshirting the 2011 season. He started at weakside linebacker in his college debut Saturday against Hawaii and performed well, recording four tackles and an eight-yard sack.

He may or may not start against this Saturday -- depending on the health of middle linebacker Lamar Dawson -- but he figures to have a sizable role with this Trojans team this season.

And that's a big surprise to people from his hometown, he says. There isn't much of a football tradition in the South Jersey area, so his friends aren't used to Jersey natives having such immediate success in college football -- especially so far away from home.

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Dawson, Harris expect to be back Saturday

September, 5, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC was without three starters in its season-opening win over Hawaii on Saturday.

Two of those three, middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and cornerback Torin Harris, say they'll be back this week for Syracuse. Defensive end Wes Horton's status is still unknown.

But Dawson and Harris are rearing to be back.

"This week, yeah, I expect to play," Dawson said on Wednesday. "I've been practicing, getting reps, and I'm just ready to get back on the field."

Of course, he said similar stuff a week ago. But a decision was eventually made "not to rush things," Dawson said, and keep him out of the opener.

If he does indeed suit up, he'd likely displace Anthony Sarao from the starting lineup at linebacker, with Hayes Pullard moving back to the weakside from his makeshift middle position. But Sarao will likely still take considerable snaps either way, based on his solid play against Hawaii.

Dawson said he was about "95 percent" healthy.

Harris, who's been out since the first week of camp with what he said was a hamstring injury, could also move into the starting lineup if healthy, moving Saturday starter Anthony Brown to the nickel slot.

"Yeah, I'm back," he said. "Whatever the coaches have planned, I'll play my role."

Harris hasn't played in a game since last September, when he hurt his shoulder against Arizona State. He said he felt like forever since he's been on the field in a game situation.

But his latest injury didn't discourage him much.

"I've been through a lot worse than just a hammy pull," Harris said. "This is where I want to be, so I'll do anything to get back out here."

Asked if any or all of the three injured players would be back Saturday, Kiffin had little to say.

"I hope so," he said.

Kiffin: Revisiting Hawaii

September, 2, 2012
Here are notes and quotes from Lane Kiffin's Sunday evening teleconference with the media, as the Trojans' head coach looked back at his team's 49-10 win over Hawaii and looked forward toward Syracuse:

Plenty of room for defensive improvement

USC played alright on defense against Hawaii, but Kiffin wanted to see more playmaking from his defenders -- especially a deep secondary that possessed a significant athleticism advantage over the Warriors receivers.

But the Trojans' head coach attributed a lot of the desired playmaking to the three defensive starters who did not play in the game due to injury: defensive end Wes Horton, middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and cornerback Torin Harris.

When some of those guys get back, Kiffin will expect immediate improvement, with games against better offensive teams Syracuse and Stanford quickly approaching.

"We're gonna need to make more plays on the ball in the secondary," Kiffin said Sunday.

McNeal should play more

No, it was not part of Kiffin's plan to run Curtis McNeal only five times in the Trojans' season opener.

It sort of just happened. And so McNeal finished with only 10 yards, his lowest rushing total since the second game of the 2011 season.

Kiffin said Saturday was "kind of a strange game offensively," what with how many explosive plays USC was able to achieve through the air and how few the Trojans got on the ground.

That probably had to do with the fact that Kiffin called 43 pass plays and just 21 running plays. But Kiffin said Hawaii's defense "really dictated" how much USC tried to throw the ball.

He did at least allow that it wasn't "the balance we're looking for."

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Postgame notes: USC-Hawaii

September, 1, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- Here are notes and quotes from USC's 49-10 win over Hawaii on Saturday that won't make it into our other coverage of the game.

Defensive line takes criticism to heart

Ed Orgeron is loud. He can also be quite convincing.

And the USC defensive line coach convinced his defensive linemen Saturday they were being disrespected in college football circles. They responded with an inspired performance in USC's season opener.

Considering that they were without two of their four projected starters six weeks ago in Devon Kennard and Wes Horton, the linemen actually played quite well. Antwaun Woods played solid two-down football throughout the game, and Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin and George Uko all proved adept at reaching the quarterback. J.R. Tavai did his job.

According to Woods and several other USC defenders, their play can be traced to Orgeron's pregame speech that got them so fired up.

"They really bonded today, pregame," starting linebacker Anthony Sarao said. "I didn't really see that during camp, but tonight, they definitely bonded."

Defensive captain T.J. McDonald said the linemen were "mad" after talking to Orgeron, and he said they "stayed mad" all game.

"There was some criticism," McDonald said. "And they knew that. They had a big chip on their shoulder knowing that they were supposedly a big weakness on this team."

Supposedly might be right. USC's linemen had four sacks on their own -- a figure the Trojans reached as a team only three times last season.

And it wasn't as if Hawaii was effective running the ball, either. USC allowed just 56 yards in 32 carries, an average of just 1.7 yards.

"People talked about the D-line being our weakness," Sarao said. "They were out there doing their thing tonight."

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Taking a look at the depth chart

August, 27, 2012
USC released its season-opening depth chart Sunday night. Here are our brief takeaways, position by position:


As expected, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are still listed as co-backups to starter Matt Barkley. We should have a resolution soon, according to Lane Kiffin, who said Sunday he'd have something to say on the subject on "Tuesday morning."

For what it's worth, Kessler was listed first at the end of spring and Wittek was listed first this time. But they still had an all-caps "OR" in between their names both times.

Running back

This might be the biggest surprise on the depth chart.

Curtis McNeal was expected to be the for-sure starter heading into camp, and that didn't change much when Silas Redd was added just days before. McNeal has done very little wrong over the last few weeks, yet, somehow, Redd's listed as his co-starter on the depth chart.

As the third-string running back, D.J. Morgan cannot afford to fumble this season. A turnover or two and his carries will be going to redshirt freshman Buck Allen, who has improved in camp.


Soma Vainuku is the starter here. There was never any doubt.

Freshman Jahleel Pinner is listed as the second-stringer, but it's likely he'll redshirt, so third-stringer Charles Burks is probably bound for the backup role. Walk-on Hunter Simmons gets on the depth chart after re-joining the team this year.

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C. Kessler452315382639
J. Allen27614895.411
J. Davis1295954.64
N. Agholor104131312.612
J. Smith5472413.45