USC: Jawanza Starling

Barkley, Woods look to make NFL mark

March, 27, 2013
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 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.

Young, veteran mix solidifies safety spot

March, 15, 2013
With the loss of starting safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling, there was more than a fair amount of anticipation heading into spring practice when the search for their replacements officially began.

[+] EnlargeDemetrius Wright
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIVeteran Demetrius Wright is solidifying a safety position that has also seen an infusion of freshman talent.
And while it’s a unit currently low in terms of numbers with both Gerald Bowman and Dion Bailey -- who will potentially move to the secondary from linebacker in 2013 -- out for the spring due to injury, USC’s safety group has performed solidly throughout the team’s five practices, thanks in large part to a pair of veterans running primarily with the first group -- redshirt junior Josh Shaw and senior Demetrius Wright.

With Shaw at strong safety, and Wright at free safety, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has two experienced contributors with tons of athleticism manning the center of the defensive backfield in his new scheme.

“I feel like we’re coming along good,” Wright said. “Me and Josh have known each other since our junior year in high school, so we already had that connection. We’re working together, we watch film together, and the communication between me and him is going really good right now.”

But it hasn’t just been Shaw and Wright who have stood out. In fact, over the course of the last week, it’s been freshman early-entrant Su’a Cravens who has emerged as a budding star. Lining up with the second unit at strong safety, as well as at nickelback in the team’s nickel package, he was particularly stellar on Tuesday, collecting two interceptions. And on the other side, it’s been another freshman, Leon McQuay III, who has drawn notice after spending the first week at cornerback.

Once a major question mark, the safety positions now appear to have been at least somewhat solidified, particularly when you consider the team will be getting reinforcements in the fall -- a time that figures to see the competition heat up even more.

“All of the safeties aren’t even here right now,” Wright said. “We’ve still got a couple of guys hurt, so it’s going to be a real competition come fall training camp. We’re going to have a lot of depth. Anybody can go with the ones or twos, so we don’t really look at who’s starting. We’re out here competing so everyone is good to play.”

Exit interview: Jawanza Starling

January, 31, 2013
Jawanza StarlingJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJawanza Starling's scoop-and-score against Notre Dame stands as his favorite Trojans memory.
Making the trek across the country from Sunshine State powerhouse Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln in 2009, Jawanza Starling would develop into a sturdy presence for the Trojans at strong safety. A three-year starter, he amassed 128 tackles in his time on campus, but he's most likely to be remembered for coming up big in the clutch -- most notably in 2011, when he picked up a fumble and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown in USC's 31-17 victory over Notre Dame.

Now gearing up for the "Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game" (Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas), the recent graduate took time out to give a quick update on what he's been up to over the last few weeks, while also taking a look back on his Trojans career.

WeAreSC: First off, I understand you recently graduated. When did you wrap things up, and what did you receive your degree in?

Starling: I graduated in December with a degree in PPD -- Public Policy and Management with a Health Administration focus. I'm pretty excited, especially being able to finish in three-and-a-half years. It's something that nobody can ever take away from me.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the conclusion of the football season?

Starling: I've just been training for the combine, the all-star games and pro day. It's been pretty intense ... two-a-days basically -- two workouts a day. And then just recuperating my body in the off-time. I'm just trying to get my form, my speed and my strength up. I'll be playing in the "Texas vs. The Nation Game" on the 2nd.

WeAreSC: Are you training locally in Southern California?

Starling: I'm training in Westlake [Westlake Village, Calif.] at The Factory, Elite Performance.

[+] EnlargeJawanza Starling
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesGraduating senior Jawanza Starling's USC career was highlighted by opportunistic playmaking.
WeAreSC: Looking back on your time at USC, do you have a top on-field memory that sticks out in your mind?

Starling: I would probably say my fumble recovery against Notre Dame last year.

WeAreSC: You also came up with a crucial play against Washington this past October when you forced and recovered a fumble when the Huskies were making a comeback bid. Have you always been a clutch performer, and is that something that you take pride in?

Starling: I always try to be a guy who makes the most out of my opportunities. When it's my chance to make a play, I try to do my best to make a play and be in the right position, doing my assignment right to be able to make the play. So, that's one of the things that I do always try to focus on.

WeAreSC: If you had to name one or two coaches at USC who had an especially profound impact on you, who would they be?

Starling: I would have to say Monte Kiffin and Marvin Sanders. I would say Monte just because of his knowledge and his teaching of the schemes, and just the experience of getting to play with a coach with such a strong resume. And then Coach Marvin Sanders because of his technique, his fundamentals and his consistency with his coaching -- it just really helped me out this past year.

WeAreSC: What are you going to miss most about being a student at USC?

Starling: I guess what I'm going to miss most is just the chance to be able to sit next to people in class that are going to be successful in the future. And to get to rub elbows with past alumni, and then the students that you were in class with, and just knowing that down the road that those can be business partners or somebody that you might have to rely on to help you out in any situation.

WeAreSC: What was your favorite class that you took at USC?

Starling: I would have to say my health management class this past semester -- PPD 413. First of all, I like the professor -- Professor Richard Hagy -- he actually works at the USC hospital. It was a good experience just to be able to learn from somebody in the field that I see myself going into in the future. It was a once-a-week class, but we just learned a lot of applicable things to use in the future.

WeAreSC: Favorite on- or off-campus eating spot?

Starling: I would have to say Chipotle, or maybe Roscoe's off campus.

WeAreSC: As a guy who came out from Florida in 2009, talk about what life has been like for you on the West Coast these last four years.

Starling: I adjusted to it very well. People are different wherever you go. The atmosphere of the people here is more laid back than back home where I'm from. And I'm a laid-back person in general, so I kind of adjusted easily. But the weather is pretty much the same. You have good weather most of the year -- it doesn't rain as much out here as it does back home. But other than that, the transition wasn't difficult for me.

WeAreSC: Talk about what this whole experience of playing for USC has meant to you.

Starling: First of all, it's the tradition of all of the guys that came before me. The Ronnie Lotts, the Marcus Allens, the Junior Seaus, the Carson Palmers, the Reggie Bushes ... the great players that form the lineage of SC Trojans. And pretty much, you always had to walk around with a target on your back, because everybody that wasn't a Trojan, wanted either to be you or beat you. So, there was an us vs. the world attitude that I always shared with my teammates, and I think that was the main impressive thing to me about being a Trojan.

WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?

Starling: Over these last couple of years, we've had our ups and downs, but it's always good to know that we have die-hard SC fans, and that the Trojan family stays strong through the good and bad.

Sun Bowl: Postgame notebook

December, 31, 2012
EL PASO, Texas -- The USC Trojans ended 2012 with the opposite of a bang -- a 21-7 upset loss to under-.500 Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

The same Trojans offense that started off the season as hyped as any team in the country failed to produce even double-digit points against a squad that had been giving up 30 a game beforehand.

Here are notes and quotes from USC's loss on New Year's Eve, not including the news that receiver Robert Woods is foregoing his senior season and declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.

Initial responses

USC coach Lane Kiffin began his postgame press conference by taking "all" the blame for the loss and stating, shortly, that he knew the Trojans' 2012 performance was unacceptable.

"We can't be 7-6," Kiffin said. "Not at 'SC."

Kiffin also called it a "very surprising game." Based on what his team had shown him over five previous days in El Paso and recent weeks in L.A., he expected a different outcome.

"I thought we would play much better on offense today," he said. "I thought we had two good weeks of practice."

But as he did after every game this season, he praised the Trojans' overall effort.

His players also said they thought the bowl practices would translate into a better bowl performance. A few also offered their own theories for what went wrong -- both Monday and over the last four months.

"We failed to execute, be disciplined, at times, when it was critical," senior safety Jawanza Starling said. "That's pretty much it -- we failed to execute at critical times."

Junior running back Silas Redd said it came down to physicality.

"I think we just gotta be meaner, more physical, more nasty up front in every way," he said. "Even running backs running harder."

All Wittek, no Kessler

[+] EnlargeMatt Kartozian
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsUSC quarterback Max Wittek completed just 14 of 37 attempts for 107 yards and had three interceptions against the Sun Bowl's harsh winds.
Max Wittek, making his second career start in place of the injured Matt Barkley, struggled mightily to make headway on the Georgia Tech defense.

He said afterward he never lost confidence but admitted to feeling out of rhythm for most of the game.

In all, Wittek attempted 37 throws and completed only 14 of them for 107 yards, adding three interceptions and one touchdown. Yet Cody Kessler, Wittek's backup, a fellow redshirt freshman and a competitor for next year's open quarterback job, did not replace him at any point.

Asked after the game why he kept Wittek on the field throughout, Kiffin said the weather discouraged him from making a switch.

"I just didn't think that, the way the temperature was and the way the wind was going, the way we were running the ball, I don't think that was really the right move at the time," Kiffin said.

Kessler noted that he had played in cold-weather conditions before. He did warm up on the sideline briefly in the second half but said that was just to maintain warmth, not due to any coaching instructions.

"I just kept staying prepared," Kessler said. "I had no idea what was gonna happen. No matter what, I'm still gonna support Max, I'm still gonna support our coaches."

The wind's impact

Winds gusted up to 35 miles per hour at the Sun Bowl, as expected, and they appeared to play a role in a few of Wittek's overthrows, especially early on.

But the freshman signal caller declined to use it as an excuse for his performance.

"It did carry a few balls, but we knew that (it would) coming in," Wittek said in the postgame press conference. "I knew that I needed to drive the ball a little bit more, but the wind was there for both teams.

"Obviously they run the ball a little bit more than they throw, but we both had the wind factor."

Star receiver Marqise Lee said the wind was "shaky" -- stronger than he expected coming in.

Monte's goodbye

The 72-year-old Monte Kiffin was in relatively good spirits after his final game at USC on Monday, expressing love for Trojan traditions and the school's marching band.

Kiffin, the school's de facto defensive coordinator for the last three seasons, resigned last month, citing a desire to take an NFL job.

"You don't like to end up like this," he said. "But I'll tell you what: I've only been here three years, but I'll be a Trojan for life."

The elder Kiffin retained his sense of humor. Asked Monday if he would miss coaching alongside his son, he laughed.

"Not really," Monte Kiffin said.

He said he expected to hear from NFL teams about job opportunities in the coming days, with his season and the league's regular season now both over.

Robey's decision

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey will fly home to Florida on Tuesday and should have a decision made on whether to declare for the NFL draft by Thursday, he said.

Robey said he received a fourth-round-or-later grade on the draft evaluation he requested, meaning the NFL officials who evaluated his college tape did not find him worthy of a pick in the top three rounds.

He said he found that "pretty surprising." He had previously said he would only declare for the draft if he received a first- or second-round grade from the NFL on his pre-draft evaluation.

Final notes: Lee said he hurt his knee during Saturday's practice and received extensive treatment on it over the next 48 hours. He played the entire game Monday and said he wasn't really bothered by the injury. He finished with six catches for 41 yards. ... USC was missing two normal contributors due to academic ineligibility. Offensive lineman Abe Markowitz and cornerback Torin Harris were not with the team because of grade issues, Kiffin said. ... Robey said Georgia's Tech fourth-quarter touchdown -- a 17-yard catch from Orwin Smith, who broke Robey's tackle attempt -- came on a "busted coverage." The Trojans had not seen "those looks or that certain play" in their preparation for Georgia Tech, Robey said. ... Redd said he will return to USC for his senior season. He requested and received a draft evaluation from the NFL but declined to reveal its result. ... Monte Kiffin, on Lane's impending search for a new defensive coordinator: "I don't think he's done much on it yet, but he shouldn't have, because he's been trying to win a bowl game."

Roundtable: Season in review 

November, 29, 2012
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

USC-Colorado postgame notes

October, 20, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Here are notes and quotes from the USC Trojans' 50-6 smashing of Colorado on Saturday at the Coliseum that won't make it into our other coverage from the day.

The best of the records

Tee Martin, USC's first-year receivers coach, remembers it vividly.

It was Halloween 1998, Tennessee's national championship season, and his Volunteers were taking on South Carolina on the road.

As the quarterback, he completed his first 23 passes on the day in a 49-14 win, finishing 23-of-24 for a 95.8 completion percentage. The national championship win takes precedence in his pantheon of collegiate memories, he said Saturday, but that performance might well be second.

So it's not crazy to assume that Matt Barkley's completion percentage in Saturday's win was actually the best record he set on the day. In a magnificent performance against a horrific defense, Barkley completed 19 of his 20 attempts for 98 yards and six touchdowns. He tied his own record for scoring throws in a game and set a new school and conference record for them in a career, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 99.

And he did it all in about 35 minutes, coming out before the third quarter was even half over. And the only incompletion came on a dropped pass by Curtis McNeal, too -- on an on-the-money throw.

Barkley's 95 percent completion rate set a USC and Pac-12 record and came just short -- by .8 percent -- of Martin's all-time NCAA record set that day in Columbia. Martin knew what was going on in the second half and half-expected Trojans coach Lane Kiffin to send Barkley back in to challenge for the record.

Barkley used the word "special" at least five times discussing his record-setting day in the postgame press conference, but he used a different word talking about his accuracy.

"To have a nearly perfect game in that sense was something cool," Barkley said.

Similarly, Kiffin seemed to expect most of the records Barkley and receiver Robert Woods set against the Buffaloes. But he didn't expect his quarterback to complete 19 of 20 passes.

"I think we really felt that this was gonna happen," Kiffin said. "I don't know if I could have predicted a 95 percent completion percentage, but I really felt we were going to throw the ball really well."

The turnovers

Nickell Robey and Jawanza Starling bowed their heads in shame recalling the incident.
Starling messed up a for-sure interception -- and likely pick six -- late in the second quarter when he overran a Jordan Webb pass intended for Tony Jones that was thrown more closely to him. Starling reacted violently to the mistake and still groaned when asked about it afterward.

He simply got too excited.

"I hate to admit it," Starling said, "but, yes."

Said Robey, who was nowhere near the play but saw it all happen: "Don't remind me. It made me mad. I told him, 'Bro, you just ran through the ball. You would've been gone.'"

Here's the crazy thing, though: That would have been the Trojans' seventh turnover of the night. The fact that they were lamenting that says a lot about the progress Monte Kiffin's unit has made over the past year-plus.

"We want more," said linebacker Tony Burnett, who had one of the three interceptions. "If we can get six turnovers against these teams coming up, it's gonna look really good for us."

First-time interceptions

Three Trojans made the first interceptions of their major-college careers Saturday -- well, two, but Drew McAllister's previous picks were so long ago that they barely count.

Burnett's and safety Gerald Bowman's were both legitimate, though. In a crafty third-quarter play, Burnett snatched the ball out of the hands of Colorado's Nelson Spruce and returned it 55 yards, with only the opposing quarterback preventing him from scoring. Bowman later picked off Webb just short of the end zone and returned it 19 yards.

"It fell right into my lap," Burnett said of his play. "While he was bringing his hands down, I slapped at it, the ball popped in the air and I grabbed it. Then I turned around and I was like, 'Whoa, I got the ball.'"

USC is now averaging almost three times as many interceptions this season as last, with 14 through seven games compared to nine in 12 games.

Still with the penalties

USC had set a goal to limit its penalties against the Buffs after leading the nation in flags per game midway through the 2012 season.

That didn't work too well. The Trojans finished with 10 penalties, including four of the personal-foul or unsportsmanlike-conduct variety.

"It was just really upsetting," Kiffin said. "That's not who we want to be and not the product we want to put out there."

The flags cost USC a total of 90 yards. Colorado, by contrast, had only four for 46 yards.

Williams' ejection

Freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams was ejected in the second quarter after he threw a punch at a Colorado offensive player's facemask.

Teammates said Williams was spit on in the bottom of the dogpile. Because he was ejected due to a flagrant foul, the play will be reviewed by the Pac-12 office to determine whether he'll be suspended for the Trojans' next game.

Williams could miss half or all of the Arizona game. Kiffin said he didn't get a good look at what Williams did but was going to pull him from the game even if the officials didn't.

Injury update

Left tackle Aundrey Walker went down with an apparent neck injury in the third quarter and was carted off the field and transported to the hospital.

Freshman Max Tuerk, who replaced him Saturday and stands to take his place if Walker's out for an extended injury, said the injury looked "really bad."

"I really wish the best for him," Tuerk said. "We'll see how he is tomorrow."

Walker and Tuerk had been rotating in every other series in the first half.

In other injury news, receiver Marqise Lee had stitches in his hand, Woods said, which played a role in Barkley throwing the ball to him only six times Saturday.

Final notes: De'Von Flournoy's 21-yard second-quarter catch was the first of his career. Woods recalled a passing-league tournament from his junior season of high school football when he was playing safety and Flournoy tore him up as a receiver. Woods said that was one of the reasons he came to USC. ... Receiver George Farmer said he was "caught off guard" when Kiffin called him into the game late in the fourth quarter at running back. Farmer's one carry, which went for nine yards, was called back because of a penalty. ... One of the most famous members of Earth, Wind & Fire, falsetto Philip Bailey, was in attendance at the Coliseum, invited by Colorado coach Jon Embree. ... Said Embree of Barkley: "There's a reason why he's gonna go like that in the draft. I'm glad he's done and I don't have to see him in person anymore."

Shaw's two picks have teammates talking

October, 17, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Linebacker Dion Bailey knew the statistic and cited it quickly while walking out of CenturyLink Field following USC's' 10-point win over Washington last weekend.

"Two picks for Josh Shaw," Bailey said, grinning wide. "He's creeping up."

Bailey has four interceptions this season, leading the USC team. Shaw, the little-used safety who made his cornerback debut against the Huskies, is now tied with safety Jawanza Starling for second with two.

Bailey was joking, obviously, but most jokes spawn from some truth. Shaw could indeed be a real threat to his mark if he keeps playing at the same level.

As a team, USC already has 11 picks in six games this season. The Trojans had only nine all of last season, so there has been marked improvement in that category.

Shaw is part of that, bringing instant, proven playmaking ability to the secondary. A redshirt sophomore transfer from Florida, he was a big-time recruit out of nearby Palmdale as a prep. USC was after him then and again last winter when he announced he was transferring away from the Southeast to be closer to home.

His hardship waiver was granted late in the spring, but his initial practice appearance was delayed because of injury. He finally started participating in fall camp, practicing as a corner before switching back to safety for the next two months.

When starting corner Torin Harris continued to struggle this season, USC coach Lane Kiffin and his staff decided to give Shaw some practice time at the spot. He made his game debut there the same week, when Harris went out because of an apparent head injury.

His play -- and reaction to being thrown into the mix -- impressed the Trojans' staff.

"He didn't get flustered," Kiffin said. "A lot of that goes to his experience. We went with him over some other kids based off of his experience, playing at Florida and playing in big games, even though he was playing at safety at the time.

"I think he did a good job."

Shaw is continuing to take repetitions at corner in practice this week.
Kiffin is refusing to name a specific starter across from Nickell Robey for the Colorado game, but the smart money says Shaw will get another opportunity.

He said Wednesday he believes he can start the rest of the year at the position.

Shaw's also an intelligent player. Coaches say he makes real adjustments to his game on a week-to-week basis, and he backed that up with his comments Wednesday.

"Watching the film, I noticed more mistakes I made during the game that I didn't really notice while I was playing," Shaw said when asked for an assessment of his play. "There's a lot of little things that I'm looking forward to cleaning up."

We'll see if he gets the opportunity.

USC's defense keeps title hopes alive

October, 15, 2012
SEATTLE -- It isn’t hard to pinpoint the moment when USC’s campaign turned from ordinary to extraordinary last season.

Ask any player or coach and they will tell you it shifted the moment Jawanza Starling saw the football rolling around the grass at Notre Dame Stadium, picked it up on a perfect bounce and ran 80 yards for touchdown that turned around the game and USC’s season.

More than a couple of USC players were hoping history might repeat itself this season as they left CenturyLink Field in Seattle Saturday night after Starling once again made the play of the game.

With Washington driving and on the USC 4-yard line, down 10 points with over 11 minutes left in the game, Starling stripped the ball loose from quarterback Keith Price and fell on it. He didn’t return it for a touchdown this time but the play killed Washington’s momentum, quieted the sold out crowd and gave USC the win.

“It would be pretty cool if it happened again,” Lane Kiffin said, standing outside USC’s locker room after the game. “A road win in a tough place to win much like that was before. You never know.”

As much as Starling would like to see USC’s offense start playing like they did after his season-changing play last year, he doesn’t really think the play will need to spark a Trojan defense that has been solid all season.

“Against Notre Dame we were in a defensive rut and that fumble was a spark-plug for the whole season,” Starling said. “This season, I feel the defense has been playing well the whole year. It was a spark-plug for this game, it changed the whole momentum for the game, but it wasn’t anything we did differently on defense.”

Coming into this season Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal stole most of the headlines nationally and billboards locally as many expected USC’s offense to easily outscore the opposition every week. Instead, T.J. McDonald, Dion Bailey, Nickell Robey, Leonard Williams, Morgan Breslin and USC’s unsung defense have helped the Trojans stay in contention this season while the offense finds itself.

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USC defense playing well as a unit 

October, 14, 2012
The USC victory over Washington confirmed something that has been building over the first half of the season, the fact that the tone of this Trojans team is being set by the defense.

It’s been a pretty unexpected development considering the firepower of the USC offense, but right now the defense has been the more consistent side of the ball and on Saturday they provided a steady hand in a tough road environment.

The first big play came from linebacker Dion Bailey – which is no surprise considering Bailey has been the biggest constant on the USC defense all year long. What made Bailey’s interception stand out was not just the early turnover but the way he reached back and grabbed the ball behind him. It was a very acrobatic play and a reminder that Bailey was once a ball-hawking safety, one who had nine interceptions as a junior in high school.

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USC-UW postgame notes

October, 14, 2012

SEATTLE -- Here are notes and quotes from No. 11 USC's 24-14 win over Washington that won't make it into our other coverage from the game.

Defensive prowess

Nickell Robey was beaten badly on Kasen Williams' 17-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and he wasn't too happy about it.

As he ran off the field, he pooled coach Lane Kiffin and secondary coach Marvin Sanders together and told them he had a declaration to make.

"He's not gonna catch another pass the whole game," Robey told his coaches.

Sure enough, Williams didn't make another appearance on the stat sheet. He finished with 22 yards on two catches, the other five-yard catch coming just before the touchdown.

After the game, Kiffin said Robey led the way for what was another sneaky-good performance from USC's defense.

Two years ago, the Trojans were downright bad. Last year, they were good at times and bad at others.
Now, they're just good -- especially in the turnover department, forcing another four from the Huskies on Saturday.

And, perhaps most important, they weren't just good for three quarters, either. They held up all the way through the fourth, not allowing Washington any points in the final 20 minutes.

"For three years, that's been our issue: Fourth-quarter defense," Kiffin said. "I thought our guys really played well and closed the game out."

Defensive back Josh Shaw, who made his debut at cornerback Saturday and had an interception, said he heard his teammates discussing just how much improvement they've made over the past year. He didn't see any of it because he transferred from Florida in January, but he believes it.

"I wasn't here last year, but the talk is that this defense is much improved," Shaw said after the game. "We're looking pretty good."

Really, USC's defense has been more consistent than its offense, allowing no more than 22 points in a game when not counting garbage-time TDs from Syracuse and Utah.

Asked if he agreed with that assertion after Saturday's game, receiver Marqise Lee nodded his head.

"As of right now, you could say that," Lee said. "I'm not even gonna lie."

(Read full post)

Grades: USC 24, Washington 14

October, 13, 2012
SEATTLE -- No. 11 USC battled past some second-half troubles to top Washington, 24-14, on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. Here's a report card for the Trojans:

Yeah, 10 completions isn't really going to cut it. Matt Barkley didn't attempt a ton of passes, but his attempts weren't particularly effective anyway. Robert Woods did show some impressive explosiveness. Marqise Lee's best play was called back because of a penalty. Only four receivers caught passes.

Silas Redd had a fantastic first quarter and a strong second, then stayed in the locker room after halftime and wasn't quite the same when he returned to the game later. Curtis McNeal was effective, as usual, as the No. 2 runner. No real chances for D.J. Morgan.

Too many penalties on the USC offensive line, but, in general, the players were able to produce room for Redd and McNeal to run. The tackles were still occasionally smoked around the edge. The Trojans' D-line hasn't had a bad game yet, and Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams are two dominant newcomers.

Not a perfect performance, but USC's defense made big plays when it needed to. Dion Bailey had an impressive first-quarter pick to get the Trojans going, and Jawanza Starling's fourth-quarter strip might have been the play of the game. Both players made more plays, too. Torin Harris missed the second half, but Josh Shaw stepped in just fine at corner.

Anthony Brown's blocked punt and scoring return was huge, so that helps keep this unit from a much lower grade. Nickell Robey was very shaky as a punt returner, muffing two fair catches, and Andre Heidari had a second-half field-goal attempt blocked.

At times, Lane Kiffin can be an inventive and intelligent play-caller. This was not one of those times. It seemed too often USC was in a third-and-long scenario and Kiffin was calling for a run to hedge his bets and get a little bit better field position. The third quarter continues to plague Kiffin's squad.

Shaw getting a look at corner

October, 10, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Lane Kiffin has resisted giving Florida transfer Josh Shaw an extended look at cornerback all season, after Shaw spent some time there early in fall camp.

He finally has given in.

First, Kiffin said on Friday the Trojans were no closer to finding a solution for one of their starting corner spots than they were at the start of the year. Then he said he and his staff were discussing the viability of trying Shaw there once again.

The redshirt sophomore, normally a safety, proceeded to practice some at corner on Sunday and Tuesday before moving back to safety with Jawanza Starling absent from practice Wednesday.

He'll presumably take more snaps at corner in the Trojans' final practice of the week Thursday, then could play either spot against Washington on Saturday.

"We haven't figured out what we'll do on gameday yet," Kiffin said. "But it's good to know that he can do both for us."

Shaw spent a week or two at corner at the start of fall camp and performed well, but not well enough to change the Trojans' plans. The idea since his January arrival has been for him to take over at one of the two opening safety spots next season.

That's still the long-term goal, as far as anyone can tell. It's just being put on hold some since the second corner position has far and away been USC's biggest problem point on defense.

Torin Harris has not been the answer, and Kiffin moved back some from his constant support of the junior over the weekend. Freshman Kevon Seymour has experienced the growing pains you'd expect.

So secondary coach Marvin Sanders told Shaw on Sunday that the Trojans' staff had decided to temporarily move him to corner. The redshirt sophomore said he was glad to hear it, even though it came a bit out of the blue.

"Mind you," Shaw said Wednesday, "I haven't played corner since the first or second week of camp, so I'm getting back into the flow of things and I'm moving along pretty well."

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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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Game-time updates: USC-Hawaii

September, 1, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- We're just about set to go here at the Coliseum for the USC Trojans' 4:30 p.m. PT game against Hawaii. Here are a couple of last-minute things worthy of an update before kickoff:
  • The Trojans have long resisted making alterations to their uniforms while programs across the country have given in, but USC is allowing its players something interesting this season. Every player's cleats and socks are now cardinal-and-gold colored and quite reflective in the Los Angeles sun.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers public address announcer Eric Smith is the new Coliseum PA guy for the Trojans, beginning today. He was the school's top choice from a pool of potentials who auditioned during USC's Spring Game in April.

We'll have more from the Coliseum after today's game.

USC's season-opening depth chart

August, 26, 2012
USC coach Lane Kiffin released the first official depth chart of the 2012 season on Sunday night. Here it is, in its entirety, with bold indicating starters, ALL-CAPS indicating returning starters and ^ indicating returning co-starters.

We'll analyze the depth chart on Monday.


Cody Kessler OR
Max Wittek

Running back
Silas Redd
D.J. Morgan
Javorius Allen

Soma Vainuku
Jahleel Pinner
Charles Burks
Hunter Simmons

De'Von Flournoy OR
Nelson Agholor

Split end
George Farmer
Victor Blackwell

Tight end
Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick OR
Christian Thomas OR
Junior Pomee

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