USC: Curtis McNeal

Barkley, Woods look to make NFL mark

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
8:16
AM PT
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.

Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
1:26
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Marqise LeeMatt Kartozian/US PresswireMarqise Lee's 345-yard, two-touchdown performance against Arizona was universally lauded by the WeAreSC roundtable as one of the Trojans' best performances.
There were many ups and downs during the 2012 season. Give your responses on the following items (good or bad) that helped shape the season.

Biggest individual plays

Garry Paskwietz

Postgame notes: Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
5:27
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- A couple of minutes after the final whistle in No. 1 Notre Dame's 22-13 win over the unranked USC Trojans at the Coliseum on Saturday night, Irish linebacker Manti Te'o stood on the field answering questions from reporters.

One inquiry: Was he happy with his team's defensive performance?

Te'o shook his head.

"We don't like being scored on," he said. "Although it happened, we came back and made sure that it wouldn't happen again."

About an hour later, USC safety T.J. McDonald was asked the same question as he left the Coliseum for the final time.

"I felt like it was one of our better efforts," he said. "I mean, they scored one time."

Is that, perhaps, one of the main reasons why this USC team went from preseason No. 1 to postseason No. 30-something, and the Irish did the opposite?

McDonald was relatively happy with allowing one touchdown (and five field goals). So were his USC teammates and coaches. Te'o wasn't.

Settling, clearly, was an issue for the Trojans this season.

What was their best performance of the year? They beat only one respectable team by more than 13 points; that was the Arizona State Sun Devils two weeks ago. Their other wins over teams with more than three victories this season came by 13, 10 and 10 points.

For all the expectations placed on them by the outside world, maybe their own expectations should've been higher.

Will Woods be back?

USC has a few draft-eligible players who could feasibly declare early over the next two months, but the most interesting case is that of receiver Robert Woods, who has seen his stock drop significantly this season.

At this time last year, Woods was thought of as a surefire first-round pick and potentially a top-15 guy upon being draft eligible following his junior year this season. Now he seems to be vacillating between the first and second rounds.

Will Woods leave? He says he doesn't know yet, although he said he will "probably" submit a pre-draft evaluation request to the NFL draft advisory board by the mid-December deadline.

"I gotta see what will benefit me more, staying or leaving," Woods said.

Woods said his decision will not be made solely by the draft-round grade he receives from the board. Asked if he expected his teammates to try to sway him in the coming weeks, Woods laughed.

"I'm not sure how that works," Woods said. "I guess I gotta talk to T.J. and Matt [Barkley]."

He said sophomore-to-be Max Wittek coming back as the Trojans' quarterback "definitely has an impact" on his decision.

"I believe in Max," Woods said. "I know he has a strong arm and he can get me the ball."

First-year USC receivers coach Tee Martin said he's been privately lobbying for Woods to come back since he took the job in the spring.

"Whichever way he goes, I'll support him," Martin said. "Robert Woods is one of the best receivers in college football."

Wittek's future

If Wittek isn't the Trojans' starting quarterback next September, it'd be a sizable surprise, despite coach Lane Kiffin's efforts last week to portray the race as renewed between Wittek and Cody Kessler next spring. Throw in to that mix likely January enrollee Max Browne, who Kiffin didn't mention by name.

But Kessler's name wasn't uttered once in USC's coaches and players’ postgame interviews on Saturday night. Whenever next season was brought up, Wittek's name was mentioned along with it.

Receiver Marqise Lee said he's "going to make sure to get a lot of time together" with Wittek in the offseason.

"He's probably going to see me more than he sees his parents," Lee said.

USC center Khaled Holmes, a senior, said Wittek's performance stepping in for the injured Matt Barkley reminded him of Cyrus Hobbi replacing Holmes earlier in the year at Stanford.

"He did a great job," Holmes said of Wittek. "Much like the situation Cyrus was put in earlier this year, it was an unbelievably difficult situation."

T.J.'s speech

McDonald gathered his defensive teammates for a brief pregame speech in the locker room before Kiffin addressed the greater team.

His message: "All that matters is the guys that are in this room right now. All the outsiders might try to pick at us, but all that matters is these guys right here."

He said his teammates responded admirably.

"Guys were pumped up," McDonald said. "I can't say enough about these guys.

"You could see the extra fight for the seniors. But we came up short."

USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said he felt more energy as a result of the captain's words.

"We just dug in deep and gave it our all," Pullard said.

Message to the fans?

Several players were asked after Saturday's game what they would tell fans who were disappointed with a five-loss season, considering the preseason expectations.

Responses varied.

"Great teams lose," Lee said. "They're fans. It's harder than it looks."

Running back Curtis McNeal, who left the stadium with a sling on his left shoulder, said things just didn't go the Trojans' way. He couldn't elaborate any further when pressed.

"We had every opponent down to a T," he said. "I guess it just wasn't in the cards for us."

Kiffin was asked about the same topic in his postgame news conference.

"I'm disappointed, too,” he said. “I hear 'em. I feel 'em. Those aren't our standards here, regardless of the amount of scholarships or any of those things that we're under. We've gotta do better. And obviously that starts with me."

Final notes: Lee broke Woods' conference record for receptions in a season with 53-yard grab in the fourth quarter. He now has 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. … In the five games this season that USC turned the ball over as many or fewer times than its opponent, the Trojans were 5-0. In the seven games USC had more turnovers than the opposition? 2-5. … Notre Dame's Te'o on his pregame handshake with Barkley, who was out for the game with a sprained throwing shoulder: "I just told him to enjoy it. He's going to have a successful career in the NFL and in life itself."

In the end, Wittek is the bright spot

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
11:25
PM PT
Things haven't been ending well for USC quarterbacks lately.

Max Wittek's career began somewhat like Matt Leinart's ended, squeezed by the extraordinary frustration of not being able to pick up a few inches on fourth down.

That was an improvement over how things might have wrapped up for Matt Barkley, who walked down the tunnel to the field for the last time at the Coliseum -- in the most electric atmosphere this season -- without a helmet. He walked up it a few hours later in a sweat suit, struggling to keep his gear bag from slipping off his injured right shoulder.

What do the three Trojans quarterbacks have in common, aside from having attended the same Orange County high school? For much of their college careers, they relied on Lane Kiffin to call plays for them. And USC fans will be howling about the way Kiffin handled the end of Saturday's epic opportunity against top-ranked Notre Dame.

On first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Kiffin tried to sneak Wittek in. He got nowhere.

Kiffin tried the same thing on second down. Wittek got nowhere.

After burning a timeout, Kiffin tried giving the ball to Curtis McNeal, who got -- yes, that’s right -- nowhere.

Finally, eschewing a field goal try that likely would have made it a one-score game, Kiffin allowed Wittek to attempt a forward pass. The redshirt freshman with the big arm got a bit flustered, throwing it a little too low, a little too firmly, to fullback Soma Vainuku. It was incomplete ... and a disappointing season got just a little more disappointing.

Judging from the mutterings of some USC fans streaming out of the stadium Saturday night, Kiffin’s iffy decision-making will be what a lot of people take away from the 22-13 loss that allowed the undefeated Fighting Irish to try their luck in the BCS title game.

Let it sink in for a while, though, and outrage shouldn’t be the only takeaway from Saturday’s events. The Trojans showed plenty of fight, with the defense stuffing Notre Dame at key times to force field goal tries.

And Wittek looked like a guy who could keep this program from falling off the cliff everyone has been dreading, what with Barkley’s departure to the NFL. Then again, the way this season fizzled, perhaps we can expect more from USC in 2013 than we got in 2012. The Trojans will go into the season with about half the expectations, so they’ve got that going for them.

You can’t expect a 19-year-old making his first college start -- against perhaps the best defense in the country -- to play mistake-free football. You probably can’t expect him to play any better than Wittek did, either.

And although it will pain some USC fans to admit it, Kiffin deserves some of the credit for getting a team led by a first-time starter into the final minutes of a game against the No. 1 team in the country with a shot to win it. He established the run early, allowing Wittek’s receivers to find some room to work and letting Wittek get his heartbeat under control.

He let Wittek use his most formidable weapon, a strong arm, to take some deep shots at times when an interception wasn’t going to swing the game’s outcome.

Wittek and Kiffin -- presuming athletic director Pat Haden keeps his word and retains the coach -- are going to be the pivotal figures for this team again next season, so you might as well settle in and see what kind of chemistry develops.

Wittek completed 14 of his 23 passes for 186 yards. He threw for a touchdown, and he tossed two interceptions (only one of which was truly a mistake). Those certainly aren’t spectacular numbers, but, under the circumstances, this was a performance that suggested more promise than peril for this program.

When it was over, Barkley, whom Wittek has known for about six years, put his arm around his understudy and told him how proud he was.

“I don’t regret anything at all,” Wittek said. “Obviously, the circumstances of Matt not being able to play in the game is what really sucks about it.”

Barkley didn’t want to talk to reporters after the game, at first ignoring them, then muttering he wasn’t in the mood to answer any questions. That left the people around him to interpret the emotions he was dealing with. He returned for his senior season intent on a national title run and got this laughably mediocre season. He might be healthy in time for the Holiday Bowl or Sun Bowl, USC’s likeliest destinations, but neither of those games will have a fraction of the audience Saturday’s game had. You come back to college for big moments, and Barkley had practically none this fall.

“The week was tough, and he’d already kind of lost it earlier at one point today,” Kiffin said. “I just felt for him. My heart just felt for him, because I can take it. That’s my job. That kid didn’t deserve for it to end like that.”

Nor did USC’s fans.

But there’s always another game ... and another quarterback trying to find a happier ending.

W2W4: USC-Notre Dame

November, 23, 2012
11/23/12
8:44
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The unranked USC Trojans will try to spoil the undefeated season of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (No. 1 BCS, No. 1 AP) on Saturday at the Coliseum (5 p.m. PT, ABC).

Of course, they'll attempt it without senior starting quarterback Matt Barkley, who's out for the game with a sprained throwing shoulder. Redshirt freshman Max Wittek will start in his place.

Here are 10 things to watch in a game that will be Wittek's debut as a starter:

1. Max Wittek. We know he's talented, we know he's young, we know he's not nervous -- the latter, according to his coach. So what can we actually expect from him? If the way Lane Kiffin called the USC-Notre Dame two years ago is any indication, Wittek won't get too many chances to throw the ball deep early. When Mitch Mustain replaced the injured Barkley two years ago, Kiffin called for short passes almost exclusively. Mustain ended up with 37 pass attempts and just 177 yards passing, meaning he averaged less than five yards per attempt. If Wittek's numbers look like that Saturday, it'll be a bad sign.

2. Pro-style O. If there's one thing that bodes really well for the Trojans this week, it's Notre Dame's style of offense. The Irish run a traditional scheme, and the offenses that have given USC so much trouble in recent weeks were spread-focused. Despite Monte Kiffin's best efforts to orient his defense to defend the spread, the Trojans are still far better against offenses similar to their own. "It's no secret," Kiffin said this week.

3. Marqise and Manti. It's unlikely that Marqise Lee or Manti Te'o will actually win the Heisman, but having two of the top 10 candidates for college football's top award in the same game is certainly intriguing. There's a good chance at least one of them will earn a trip to New York City for the trophy presentation, too, and this game will help decide which one gets to go. Lee's numbers are more impressive, but Te'o's team has obviously done a lot better. If the Irish win again Saturday, it's hard to argue that their best player doesn't deserve to be a finalist. Lee turns 21 on Sunday, but his last moment in the spotlight for another nine months will come Saturday. USC's high-profile string of games isn't likely to continue into bowl season.

4. The Stanford games. These teams have played such different schedules, it's hard to compare them against similar opponents. But there is one team they've both faced: the Stanford Cardinal. USC lost to Stanford 21-14 in Palo Alto, and Notre Dame beat Stanford 20-13 at home. All coaches caution against reading too much into same-opponent performances, but it's worth noting how similar the games were. Notre Dame needed a final-minute field goal to force overtime against Stanford and a miraculous goal-line stand in overtime to secure the win.

5. That D. Guess how many times this season Notre Dame has given up more than 14 points in a game? The answer is twice. The Irish haven't allowed more than 20 in regulation all season. They've held the four ranked teams they played to an average of less than nine points, so there's not exactly a precedent for good teams to do better, either.

(Read full post)

Roundtable: USC vs. Notre Dame 

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:45
AM PT
Max WittekCal Sport Media/AP ImagesWith freshman Max Wittek starting on Saturday, USC will need to establish the run in order to beat Notre Dame.
Max Wittek can play a big role in the USC-ND rivalry in his first extended action. Who is your all-time unsung hero in this rivalry?

Garry Paskwietz: Sammy Knight. In 1996, the Trojans were losing, 14-6, to the Irish in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus hit Malcolm Johnson with a pass near the USC goal line. A score there and the Irish probably go on to win, but Knight made the play of the day when he stripped the ball from behind and recovered inside the 5-yard line. USC drove the length of the field to tie the game and went on to win, 27-20, in overtime to break a 13-year winless streak against the Irish.

Greg Katz: My favorite unsung hero would be linebacker David Lewis in the 1974 comeback game. Lewis made a tremendous tackle on Mark McLane on the Trojans' kickoff following Anthony Davis legendary 102-yard scoring kickoff return. The hit by Lewis brought the Coliseum crowd to its feet.

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Kiffin: Revisiting UCLA, previewing Notre Dame

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
12:04
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The big news from USC coach Lane Kiffin's conference call Sunday night was quarterback Matt Barkley's being ruled out for this week's Notre Dame game because of a sprained right shoulder.

But there were other noteworthy things, too. Here are notes and quotes from the rest of Kiffin's call with local reporters:

Job security questions

Kiffin said he was not blindsided by questions about his job security in Saturday's postgame news conference, although he said it's "not something that I think about."

He was asked several questions about his future, including if he felt he needed to beat Notre Dame this week to come back next season.

Kiffin revealed that he'd been told by administration he'd be back no matter what happens this season, and was then asked if athletic director Pat Haden had told him that.

He answered in the affirmative.

"I'd say that was probably fair to ask," he said of the questions Sunday.

An odd rebound

Kiffin said the Trojans were "fortunate" to rebound from a rivalry loss with another rivalry game against the No. 1 team in the country in Notre Dame on Saturday (5 p.m. PT, ABC).

He said he didn't think his players would fold with the Rose Bowl now out of the picture and a Sun Bowl appearance probably the best-case scenario.

"These kids are too proud and they've been through a lot now," Kiffin said. "That won't be an issue."

Statistical oddities

Kiffin called the 38-28 loss to UCLA a "very discouraging game" but also pointed out that he found it a "strange game, as far as statistics."

There's merit there, as USC outgained UCLA, had half as many penalties, and converted the same ratio of third downs.

But, ultimately, as Kiffin pointed out, a big part of the difference may have come on special teams, where the Trojans lost handily to the Bruins for "one of the few times" in the Kiffin era.

UCLA out-punted USC by a dozen yards each attempt, and converted its only field-goal attempt. The Trojans' Andre Heidari missed two kicks and an extra point.

Final notes: Kiffin said he saw the potential for seven more sacks from USC's defense in Saturday's game. The Trojans produced five, as it was. ... With Silas Redd less than 100 percent healthy at running back, Curtis McNeal's 161-yard day proved "why it's critical to have depth at that position," according to Kiffin. ... Kiffin also said he did not call a team meeting to discuss Barkley's injury and instead planned for his players to find out via the internet and social media. ... The USC coach downplayed any similarities between this week's Notre Dame game and the one Mitch Mustain started while Barkley was hurt in November 2010: "Every situation is different. Mitch was more experienced, obviously."

Grades: UCLA 38, USC 28

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
4:02
PM PT
PASADENA, Calif. -- The USC Trojans (No. 18 BCS, No. 21 AP) started poorly, then rebounded, then played more mistake-ridden football in the second half and lost, 38-28, to the UCLA Bruins (No. 17 BCS, No. 17 AP) in a back-and-forth game at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

Here's a report card for the Trojans, who dropped to 7-4 overall and 5-4 in the Pac-12 with the loss.

GradePASSING ATTACK

Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee's crucial connections seemed off until late in Saturday's game, and that might be the single biggest reason why USC lost. Barkley's two picks were just puzzling, too, and they were both intended for Lee, so the Trojans didn't learn their lesson from last week. But Robert Woods did prove he can still catch the ball.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK

With Silas Redd still less than 100 percent, Curtis McNeal again stepped up and carried the ball nicely. Yet, as has been the case all year save for last week, he didn't get many opportunities early on. Would the game have ended differently if he had? We'll never know, but McNeal did finish with 158 yards.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES

One of the better games for both units, actually. The USC defensive line, led by Morgan Breslin, pressured Brett Hundley most of the game, and the O-line did a better-than-expected job protecting Barkley. The picks weren't because he had no time -- they were just bad decisions. Aundrey Walker was beaten badly on the hit that knocked Barkley out, though.

GradeDEFENSE

This really wasn't that bad. A lot of UCLA's points came directly off turnovers, and there's little the Trojans' defense could have done there. They held the Bruins plenty of times in the second half, and it wasn't their fault that the USC offense couldn't match UCLA. But Monte Kiffin will still be under fire come Monday.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS

After two straight great special-teams games, John Baxter's unit regressed Saturday. There was a missed extra point, missed field goal, blocked field goal and blocked punt, and nothing positive from the Trojans to offset them. It's tough to expect a still-hurt Andre Heidari to convert a 44-yard field goal in that weather when his season long was 41.

GradeCOACHING

Yes, USC rebounded from a terrible start, to the coaches' credit, but hasn't that terrible start happened too many times this season to make it still-defensible? It sure seems like it. A stellar coaching job would involve getting your players ready before kickoff, not 30 minutes after it. What was Kiffin's motivation to avoid running so desperately until late in the game?

Postgame notes: Arizona State

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
11:08
PM PT


LOS ANGELES -- USC (No. 19 BCS, No. 21 AP) played a strong second half to comfortably beat Arizona State 38-17 on Saturday at the Coliseum. Here are notes and quotes from the game that won't make it into our other coverage off the day:

McNeal's big game

Curtis McNeal hadn't ran the ball more than 11 times all season as he settled into a clear-cut backup role behind Penn State transfer Silas Redd.

But with Redd hurt on Saturday, the Trojans used McNeal more than he's ever been used before, running him 31 times. He gained 163 yards on those carries, including two touchdowns, and added a 22-yard scoring grab.

USC coach Lane Kiffin praised McNeal after the game. Kiffin said he was especially proud that only one of McNeal's carries went for negative yardage throughout the contest.

"It felt good," McNeal said. "But the only thing I'm worried about is getting the W. No matter if I get the ball or not, I'm just going out there to compete with my team."

Kiffin said Redd was not available for Saturday's game. He did not specify why.

Redd was in uniform and on the USC sideline throughout the game.

Much better on defense

USC played horrible defense against Oregon last week -- that much is indisputable. But the Trojans looked a lot better this week, and that's what players were focusing on by the time they left the stadium on Saturday night.

Defensive tackle George Uko said it feels like USC has been going against nothing but no-huddle offenses all year long. The key to its success, he said, was stopping one part of Arizona State's offense and letting everything flow from there.

"The biggest thing was we stopped the run," Uko said. "And that allowed us to have a pass rush and know they were passing on certain downs."

The Sun Devils ran the ball 35 times but gained just 71 yards. As a whole, they gained 250 yards, which tied the least amount USC has allowed this season.

ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly also was credited with minus-9 yards rushing, his worst total of the year.

Phasing Woods out?

Marqise Lee had 16 offensive touches; Robert Woods had two.

What gives?

"That's a good question," Kiffin said. "I don't really have the answer."

Kiffin said USC made a concerted effort to get Woods the ball in the second half, but he didn't even touch the ball once on offense in that 30-minute stretch.

Woods said he wasn't upset about it after the game, but he certainly didn't exude happiness.

"There was a couple plays where they tried to get me the ball," Woods said. "It just happens -- one of those games where the defense was playing well."

Woods said one of the times Matt Barkley tried to throw to him was the tipped interception by Carl Bradford. Another one was the overthrow from Barkley.

Kiffin said he felt like Woods was a "little down" after the game.

"He's human," Kiffin said. "You're going to want the ball. It was nothing negative; just from our relationship I could feel it."

Lee said he didn't think Woods was bothered by the lack of involvement in the offense at all.

"He gives up himself for me, basically," Lee said.

A rested -- and improved -- offensive line

Since Max Tuerk stepped in for Aundrey Walker against Colorado, USC's offensive line has looked better.

That continued on Saturday, with Tuerk playing most of the game and Marcus Martin and Abe Markowitz switching in every other series at left guard. Barkley was largely kept off the ground all game.

"I definitely think we're steadily progressing," right guard John Martinez said. "We still have little mistakes here and there, but I definitely think we're progressing on an upper slope.

"We're just creating competition and wanting to find the best from the group."

Walker played every third series at left tackle. He did similar things last week subbing in for Tuerk.

No distractions

The ball-deflating incident that dominated Trojans-related conversion on Thursday and Friday was largely hushed on Saturday, to Kiffin's obvious relief.

But the coach brought up the situation -- a student manager was fired for admitting he deflated five balls before last week's game -- on his own during his postgame news conference.

"That was an unfortunate situation, what happened with the ball deal," Kiffin said. "And it was such a story, unfortunately."

Barkley said he had been hearing very little about it from his teammates.

"Players weren't really talking about it in the locker room," Barkley said. "There's attention on it in social media and the media, but we weren't talking about it on the practice field."

He also repeated the story provided by USC in its initial announcement regarding the situation: He had no knowledge of the student manager's actions.

"I didn't know anything was going on," Barkley said. "I can't tell the difference [in football weights]."

Final notes: Lee filed his ticket requests for Saturday's game too late, he said, so his biological father, Elton, and aunt Valencia couldn't come to the Coliseum like they had planned. But they now plan to attend the UCLA game next week, Lee said. ... Lee now has 11 100-yard receiving games in 22 career games. He's also had seven games with double-digit catches this season. ... Barkley became the all-time conference leader in passing yards during the first half, surpassing Carson Palmer's mark of 11,818 yards and setting a new record of 12,026 yards by game’s end. ... The Sun Devils entered the game outscoring their opponents 102-24 in the fourth quarters of games this season, but the Trojans topped them 10-0 in the last stanza on Saturday.

USC-Arizona State grades

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
3:38
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC struggled early but topped Arizona State on Saturday at the Coliseum, 38-17, to move into position to make the Pac-12 championship game with one more win.

Here's a report card for the Trojans' performance against the Sun Devils:

GradePASSING ATTACK
Can we change the name of this section to Barkley-to-Lee attack? It seemed like Marqise Lee was Matt Barkley's first option on three-quarters of the Trojans' pass plays on Saturday. Where was Robert Woods? Sure, Lee's a better bet, but Woods still deserves to be a consistent part of the offense. Three interceptions tossed by Barkley is, obviously, no good. But the balance was his three touchdown passes.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
Curtis McNeal is a very good college running back. It's too bad he didn't get more opportunities to be successful in his senior season, because he has done well every time he has had the chance, including his 100-yard day on Saturday. With Silas Redd out, McNeal shouldered the load and did great until the last-minute fumble.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
This was good. USC's defensive line looked rejuvenated compared to last week and produced four sacks, with the linebackers getting a few more, too. ASU's run game was nonexistent. On offense, the line wasn't great in the passing game, but McNeal had some nicely cleared spaces to run through.

GradeDEFENSE
The turnovers weren't there until late, but the stout run D definitely was there all along. T.J. McDonald's interception helped early and Leonard Williams' and Lamar Dawson's late picks sealed the deal. But USC might need more than that the next two weeks against UCLA and Notre Dame. It still seemed like Arizona State threw too easily early.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
John Baxter's unit has had two consecutive strong weeks, and Tony Burnett's forced fumble on an Arizona State kick return was the type of big play the Trojans were lacking last week. (Of course, Barkley squandered the turnover on the ensuing play with a turnover of his own.) Burnett's force was still big. USC didn't do anything wrong here.

GradeCOACHING
USC started terribly, and some of that has to go on the head coach. Lane Kiffin's play calling was very questionable, at times, as well -- such as the second consecutive bubble screen he called that led directly to one of Barkley's picks. But, ultimately, his team straightened things out in the third quarter.

Fumbling problems leave few options

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
5:38
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Sure, USC coach Lane Kiffin has tried to remove Silas Redd from games after his fumbles this season for the Trojans, for punishment purposes.

Then the players he has replaced Redd with have fumbled, too. So Kiffin goes back to his No. 1 running back and hopes for no more mistakes.

It's his only choice, really.

"All three of our running backs have given the ball up, and it's been very discouraging," Kiffin said Wednesday. "They've been momentum-changing turnovers, where they've been really big deals."

Redd's most recent fumble was an example of that. With the Trojans down 10 points near the start of the second quarter against Arizona, he got the ball in the red zone and trained his eyes on the goal line before the Wildcats' Marquis Flowers knocked the ball out of his hands.

USC didn't call a run play on its next two drives. Redd got just one more carry the rest of the half, with sophomore D.J. Morgan taking over the primary ballcarrier role -- until he fumbled near the end of the third.

Morgan didn't touch the ball again, and Redd was shuffled back in as a pass-catcher during USC's late attempt to rally.

"We gave D.J. the ball," Kiffin said, "and then he fumbled too."

Redd has now lost the ball three times this season for USC, a sizable blip on an otherwise impressive debut season for the Trojans. He has carried for 640 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

The fumbles are "disgusting," he said.

"I come out here and work on ballhandling every day and it's supposed to translate to gameday," Redd said this week. "That's something I gotta take more pride in."

Running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu lit into Redd, Morgan and Curtis McNeal during their Sunday positional meeting. Redd cringed when later asked about it, saying it was fierce "to say the least."

Oregon, USC's opponent on Saturday, has forced an average of two fumbles per game this season.

Concussion precaution sidelined McNeal

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
7:31
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans running back Curtis McNeal stayed home from the Arizona trip last week because team doctors feared he was suffering from post-concussion syndrome, he said Tuesday.

He was feeling sick for most of the week and suffering from headaches, so the medical staff held him out for precautionary reasons. McNeal initially suffered a concussion earlier this month, in a game against Utah. He said Tuesday that he also suffered a concussion against Colorado, the week before Arizona.

"They thought it was related," McNeal said.

McNeal did watch the Trojans' loss to the Wildcats -- "every single second of it," he said -- at home.

"I'm so used to being in meetings, it was weird being back at home," he said. "It was rough, especially when you have a lead and you give it up.

"Arizona's a good team, but we should've never lost."

He said he's feeling fine now and fully expects to play Saturday against Oregon, although he was wearing a yellow jersey at the conclusion of practice Tuesday.

Yellow jerseys are typically given to players who need to avoid being hit in practice.

Left tackle Aundrey Walker, who also did not make the trip to Arizona after suffering a neck injury against Colorado, was also wearing yellow Tuesday.

USC-Arizona: What to watch

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
10:13
AM PT
In arguably their toughest game to date, the No. 10 USC Trojans face an intriguing Arizona Wildcats team on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. PT in Tucson.

The Trojans, coming off a blowout home win over Colorado, will face Oregon in a highly anticipated game next week.

Here are 10 things to watch against Arizona:

1. Arizona's explosive offense. Regardless of his quick exit from Michigan and the fallout thereafter, Rich Rodriguez is clearly an elite offensive mind. And his spread schemes have caught on quickly in Tucson. Rodriguez's Arizona team is gaining yards at a prolific pace -- 549 per game, fifth-best in the the nation. His quarterback, the athletic Matt Scott, redshirted last season as a senior under Mike Stoops, a rare move for a player of his caliber. But, man, how lucky has Rodriguez been to have such an experienced, talented quarterback in his arsenal in his first season at a new school? Scott has been the centerpiece of the offense, and everything else has flowed from there. He helps the Wildcats run roughly 85 plays per game, tiring out opposing defenses and forcing teams to make tough substitution decisions.

2. Nice kickoff time. USC coach Lane Kiffin has said it before -- 12:30 is his favorite kickoff time, especially on the road. It allows his players to get home at a reasonable hour so the next day's meetings don't feel like a continuation of gameday. Sure, it'll be hotter in Tucson than it would've been with a night kickoff, but there's another added advantage to the early start: Arizona's rowdy (and close-to-the-field) student section, known as the ZonaZoo, may be too warm to get as loud as they do for night games. Considering USC's well-documented struggles with crowd noise on the road this year, that might be big.

3. Barkley's opportunity. It hasn't come totally out of the blue -- there is certainly a precedent for returning quarterbacks' stock to drop a bit -- but Matt Barkley's 2012 season has not been the overwhelming success some expected. He's had good games against Hawaii, Utah and Colorado, but he hasn't played exceptionally against a good opponent yet. Will last Saturday's record-setting day set the tone for a string of good performances from the senior signal-caller? Perhaps. And it's not like the Wildcats' D is going to shut the Trojans out or anything. It's just a matter of truly exploding. Anything less than 275 or so yards and three touchdowns will be a disappointment in this game, and he really could go for a lot more.

4. Protecting him. Of course, a large reason why Barkley hasn't played exceptionally is because of his line. It's hard to throw deep when you can't sit in the pocket for more than three seconds at a time. With Max Tuerk likely to start at left tackle, maybe there will be significant improvement. But Kiffin and Co. have learned how to make use of other ways to give Barkley time to throw, so this isn't as big a problem as it was a month ago.

5. Defensive rotations. This, on the other hand, might be a real problem. Kiffin has never been one to make extensive use of his second- and third-stringers -- he'll tell you he only really trusts his starting 22 -- so the Trojans' backups often don't get as much on-field time as others across the country. That's started to change a bit last year and more this year, as the USC staff realized it needed to develop depth, but it's still not a strong point. Kiffin's idea to rotate defensive guys in last week against Colorado, mimicking what defending Arizona's offense will require, might end up looking like a genius move by early Saturday evening.

6. Underrated running back. Quick -- who do you think has gained more yards for scrimmage this season, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey or USC's Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, combined? The answer is, surprisingly, the former. Carey, the talented sophomore, is already approaching 1,000 yards on the ground this year for the Wildcats and has also been a legitimate receiving threat . He's gained 1,064 rushing and receiving yards, whereas the Trojans' McNeal and Redd have totaled 957. Obviously that's a product of the opportunities he's been given in Arizona's fast-paced offense, but that might not be as big a reason as you think: Carey's still gaining a respectable 5.4 yards per carry and a very respectable 10.1 yards per catch.

7. Memories of 2009. Remember the moment when Pete Carroll's final season at USC officially went off the rails? It came against this team, in the last game of the regular season. The Trojans came in reeling at 8-3 and ranked No. 18 in the country and produced a pitiful 282-yard offensive output. Barkley was quoted as saying the team's energy level was off from kickoff. "I don't know why we're putting ourselves in bad situations," he said then. Not that anyone's expecting it to, but that obviously can't happen Saturday.

8. Close games since '07. Here's an interesting fact: Every one of the last five games between these two teams has been decided by seven points or less. Arizona won that 2009 game by four, the Trojans won by seven last year, by three in 2010 and then by seven in 2007 and 2008. Does that necessarily mean that USC won't blow Arizona out? No. What the squads did against each other four and five years ago doesn't mean much to this year's teams. But don't be surprised if you see another close game.

9. Oregon. OK, so this isn't exactly about tomorrow's game -- but it's sort of gotten to the point of the college football season that resembles September in the major leagues, in that teams are starting to scoreboard watch. Scoreboard watching could get pretty brutal at Arizona Stadium on Saturday. Oregon kicks off against Colorado 30 minutes before the Trojans and Wildcats, and the Ducks could easily be up by three or four touchdowns in that time. As long as USC tops Arizona, next week's game will be one of the most talked-about matchups of the year.

10. A prediction. Much like recent history would suggest, this game should be close. USC's offense won't have a ton of trouble putting up points, but the defense could struggle with adjusting to Arizona's attack. There's only so much preparation you can get done against Colorado and your own scout team. Monte Kiffin has proven adept at making defensive adjustments, though, so improvement's not out of the question. And going through some adversity against the spread this week will probably end up helping USC against Oregon. So, the Wildcats could take an early lead, but expect the Trojans to surpass them later in the game -- maybe with a good third quarter, finally -- and win by a small margin. USC 38, Arizona 35.

Grades: USC 50, Colorado 6

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
6:42
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- No. 11 USC easily rolled over Colorado at the Coliseum on Saturday, topping the Buffaloes, 50-6. Here's a report card for the Trojans' record-setting day:

GradePASSING ATTACK
Wouldn't it be funny if there was a 'B' here and a criticism of Matt Barkley's one incompletion? Ha -- anything other than an 'A' would be blasphemy, even considering the opponent. He was magnificent. Max Wittek and Cody Kessler showed positive signs in garbage time, too.

GradeRUSHING ATTACK
There really wasn't one, sort of out of necessity because of what Lane Kiffin wanted to accomplish through the air. Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd carried a combined six times. D.J. Morgan looked great late, carrying 10 times and showing the same explosion we saw against Utah.

GradeIN THE TRENCHES
Aundrey Walker didn't do anything to stand out until he got hurt was carted off -- and that means he was doing well. The Trojans' second-team offensive line created some holes, and just about everybody on the USC D-line got to the quarterback at one point or another.


GradeDEFENSE
The Trojans did nothing to disprove the argument that they're significantly improved on defense this year. Yeah, they allowed Colorado to gain some yards, but they also forced six turnovers. This USC unit has produced big plays all season long, and that's an underrated strength going forward.

GradeSPECIAL TEAMS
There was still a big kickoff return, and there were still penalty issues on the unit, so this wasn't perfect. Kyle Negrete's only punt went 64 yards and was downed inside the 20, though, so that has to count for something. Andre Heidari banged an extra point off the uprights.

GradeCOACHING
Lane Kiffin did a nice job of managing different interests in this game, getting Barkley and Robert Woods their records but also keeping them out of harm's way. He probably could've stood to run the ball more, but it's hard to argue with two incompletions. Nine penalties for 90 yards, though -- that's hard to support.

USC Awards Tracker: Week 7 

October, 16, 2012
10/16/12
2:44
PM PT
Here is an update on the performances of USC players who have been named to various college football award watch lists:

[+] EnlargeDion Bailey
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIDion Bailey was a monster against Washington with seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
LB Dion Bailey, So. (Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi, Butkus): Bailey contributed in many ways, tying for second on the team with seven tackles, intercepting an early pass and causing a late fumble.

QB Matt Barkley, Sr. (Camp, Maxwell, O’Brien): It was a pedestrian night by Barkley standards. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler100718468
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen603185.31
J. Davis26602.31
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
N. Agholor232129.23
J. Smith1117015.50
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense151292443
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring322012