USC: Nickell Robey

Adding a name to USC coaching derby

October, 24, 2013
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They’re only college football opinions, but at least they’re all mine:

-- What this week’s Miami ruling proved is that the only organization in America more dysfunctional than Congress is the NCAA.

-- Losing nine scholarships compared to USC’s 30? Really? What would the penalty have been if the Hurricanes’ entire squad had admitted to accepting illegal benefits? Ten scholarships?

[+] EnlargeSteve Mariucci
JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty ImagesShould Steve Mariucci's name be in the mix at USC?
-- Here’s a name no one has mentioned in the USC coaching derby: Steve Mariucci. Once one of the hot, young coaches in America, he was Brett Favre’s quarterback coach with the Packers, the head coach one year at Cal, then moved on to the NFL and had some good years in San Francisco, where he beat out Pete Carroll, among others, for the head job. Currently a broadcaster for the NFL Network, he has the style and the look and was strongly considered for the Trojans’ position before Mike Garrett opted for Lane Kiffin.

-- One of the main reasons USC’s secondary is struggling is because of the early departure of Nickell Robey, the terrific cornerback whom you might have seen returning an interception for a touchdown for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

-- Maybe it’s just a freshman thing now. Certainly, Florida State’s “Famous Jameis” Winston has vaulted right up near the top of the Heisman Trophy rankings with that spectacular performance against Clemson. First Johnny Manziel and now Winston? It’s possible, although Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is still No. 1 on most lists.

-- How tough is the transition from college football to the NFL? Just ask Matt Barkley. I’m sure that ugly, three interception afternoon on Sunday wasn’t the way the former USC star dreamed his debut would go.

-- For all his unquestioned athletic ability, I thought UCLA’s Brett Hundley showed for the first time against Stanford that he’d probably be wise to stick around another year before becoming a first-round draft pick. Mechanically, there are still some things he needs to refine.

-- By the way, that jaw-dropping, one-handed catch by Stanford’s Kodi Whitfield against the Bruins wasn’t just the play of the week. It was the college football play of the year.

-- OK, I agree. It is time to start taking Baylor seriously. You keep dropping 70 points on other people and you have to be pretty good.

-- For all those who admire the late Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson, it’s difficult to believe what has happened to the program at Grambling State.

-- I’m still trying to digest the fact that Washington State’s Connor Halliday put the ball in the air 89 times against Oregon. I remember when some quarterbacks barely threw the ball 89 times in a season.

-- How quickly things change in the Pac-12. A week ago, UCLA was being mentioned as a top five BCS bowl candidate and a possible national title contender. This week, the Bruins are 22-point underdogs at Oregon.

-- Talk about contrast in styles. This week’s Stanford at Oregon State matchup is a duel between the Cardinal’s old-fashioned power game and the Beavers’ Sean Mannion, throw –it-all-over-the-yard philosophy. The surprise is that Mike Riley’s pass-crazy team is the one with the undefeated conference record.

-- Wonder what the late Bo Schembechler would have thought of Michigan’s 63-47 victory over Indiana? The two teams combined for 63 first downs and 1,323 yards of offense. Come to think of it, I know what Bo would have thought and you couldn’t repeat it on a family website.

-- Back when running backs were still considered serious Heisman candidates, Wisconsin’s young bull of a tailback, Melvin Gordon, would have been right up there in the polls.

-- It is a little early to start talking Coach of the Year, but whenever the conversation begins, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn should be included.

-- Jack Nicklaus’s grandson, Nick O’Leary, is one powerful, impressive-looking tight end for Florida State. Wonder what the kid can do with a driver in his hands?

Barkley, Woods look to make NFL mark

March, 27, 2013
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The Trojans will hold their annual NFL pro day on Wednesday, a showcase for all draft-eligible players, but the spotlight will be shining brightest on the workout of Matt Barkley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

USC spring practice report: March 12

March, 13, 2013
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As the Trojans begin the second week of spring ball sessions, they held a full pads practice on Tuesday without quarterback Max Wittek and wide receiver Marqise Lee.

Both players suffered knee injuries last Saturday prior to the Coliseum scrimmage that USC coach Lane Kiffin described as “not serious.”

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens
Erik McKinney/WeAreSC.comTrue freshman Su'a Cravens is already impressing during spring practice.
“It wasn’t one of our better practices,” Kiffin said. “This can happen in the second week, everyone is fired up to get going so they start well the first week but they came out today in full pads and it was hot so they need to learn to get through that. It had nothing to do with Wittek and Lee not being out there.”

Lee was fully dressed but did not participate in drills while Wittek was not in pads and he wore a sleeve brace around his right knee.

“I’ve got a sprained MCL,” Wittek said. “Nothing is torn, so that’s a positive, and it can’t get any worse so it’s just a matter of pain tolerance to when I can return. I’m rehabbing 2-3 times a day and if I can’t get back by the end of the week, I should be fine to go when we get back from spring break. You never want an injury but if it’s going to happen it’s good to happen now.

“The injury happened while I was holding for a placekick, kind of a silly way to happen. If there’s a bad snap again on a kick, if it’s not in a game I will probably get out of the way next time. But if the team needs me to be there, I’ll be there.”

MVP of the day: True freshman Su’a Cravens put together his best practice of spring with two interceptions and a key pass break-up, all against Max Browne. The first interception was an overthrown attempt by Browne to hit Xavier Grimble and Cravens simply played center field to get the pick. The second pick was an aggressive break on the ball by Cravens while the pass break-up came over the middle on a pass attempt for Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.

“Su’a is a very special player,” Kiffin said. “He prepares so well, always soaking things up, watching film. He’s similar to Robert Woods and Nickell Robey in that way and both of those guys started from day one.”

Kiffin said Cravens is already at 220 pounds.

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Cornerback battle taking shape

March, 8, 2013
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Entering spring practice, there wasn’t a bigger question mark in the USC defense than at the cornerback spot, where the Trojans lost both of their primary starters from the 2012 season -– Nickell Robey to the NFL, and Josh Shaw to strong safety.

But with two workouts now under their belts playing under new USC defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Clancy Pendergast, the open battle for the two starting positions has led to a spirited atmosphere marked by more-than-solid play at times, particularly from Kevon Seymour and Anthony Brown – who found themselves running with the first-team defense on both Tuesday and Thursday.

“We’re all competing out here,” Seymour said. “We’re all great athletes and we can all play. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re gaining confidence.”

It’s Seymour, in fact, who put in arguably the two top back-to-back performances of the week, highlighted by a couple of impressive pass deflections during the 7-on-7 and team session on day one.

Nothing is set in stone, however, as there are plenty of other players still in the mix. On the left side behind Seymour, it’s been early-entrant freshmen Chris Hawkins and Leon McQuay III who have received the most reps with the second unit. Two players whose arrival on campus was heavily anticipated, Hawkins, in particular, has shown flashes of standout play, while McQuay certainly has the raw talent, but is still adjusting to a new position after coming in as a safety.

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Sun Bowl: Postgame notebook

December, 31, 2012
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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."

Preparing for the dive, the quarterback and the pitch

December, 24, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Saturday was Monte Kiffin’s final practice on the USC campus in charge of the USC Trojans defense.

But he didn’t want to talk about it as he walked off the Trojans’ practice field for the final time. He did, however, want to talk about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets offense, the unusual animal USC is facing in a week for the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

In fact, he can’t stop talking about the wishbone triple-option Georgia Tech runs -- an offense he hasn’t attempted to scheme against in more than three decades.

“The dive, the quarterback and the pitch,” said Kiffin, who resigned from his post as USC’s de facto defensive coordinator last month. “You don’t know which one it is.”

He’s been repeating those words over and over to his players for the last week. And they’re starting to stick, according to senior safety T.J. McDonald.

“Everybody has a responsibility, and that’s it,” McDonald said. “You read your key and you go.”

McDonald said he “didn’t understand” the defenses that some of Georgia Tech’s opponents have used this season.

“It didn’t make a lot of sense sometimes,” he said.

But the defense Kiffin wants the Trojans to play makes sense to McDonald. It requires every player on the defense to work together to stop all three options -- the dive, the quarterback and the pitch.

Passing is a secondary worry. Tech quarterback Tevin Washington completed just 72 passes this season -- fewer than USC’s Matt Barkley threw in his final three games.

“I want to make this quarterback show me he can throw the ball,” McDonald said. “They’re a running offense, and they know that and we know that.”

As for Kiffin, he said he’ll be more ready to say goodbye after the New Year’s Eve bowl game, but he’s already envisioning the occasional return visits.

“I’d like to come back here at some point and watch,” Kiffin said. “See the head coach and see how these freshmen became sophomores and juniors and seniors.”

Wittek rearing to go

Barkley made an appearance at two USC practices over the weekend, but only to watch.

The injured quarterback is staying off the field at least until Wednesday, when he’ll attempt to suit up for the Trojans during their first bowl practice in El Paso.

Meanwhile, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler continue to split first-team reps in his stead, with Wittek still the planned starter if Barkley can’t recover from his sprained shoulder in time to start.

Wittek dismissed any concern about a lack of readiness for a bowl-game start.

“I’ve been preparing for things like these opportunities all year,” he said. “It’s not too much different than Notre Dame, other than the time that we have to prepare for Georgia Tech.”

Head coach Lane Kiffin said Barkley’s injury has allowed him to get both potential quarterbacks adequate practice reps of late, which would otherwise be impossible.

“The one positive about Matthew not being here is those guys get more reps,” Kiffin said.

Robey has a plan

Junior cornerback Nickell Robey is expecting to receive his pre-draft evaluation back from the NFL any day now, and he’s also planning on placing a lot of value in it regarding his decision whether to return for his senior season at USC.

“It’s pretty important to me, because NFL scouts took the time out to watch my film and really concentrate on what I need to get done,” Robey said. “The more information I get as far as my ability at the next level, it’s going to better my decision.”

He even has an exact round grade and corresponding decision in mind. If the NFL Draft Advisory Board tells Robey they expect him to be a third-round selection, he’ll come back to school, he said.

So only a first- or second-round grade will lead him to the NFL.

“Nothing less than that,” Robey said.

Rogers impresses his coach

Incoming receiver Darreus Rogers has practiced three times with the Trojans, and has already earned the respect of his position coach, Tee Martin.

Martin said Rogers has the athletic ability of a college receiver and a mind that is learning how to handle the demands of the next level.

“He asks the right questions,” Martin said of Rogers on Friday. “And, yeah, it’s only the second day, but his retention has been good. I just throw questions at him in the middle of anything and his attention span has been good.”

Rogers will not travel with the Trojans to El Paso due to NCAA rules. He will enroll at USC in January and can resume working out with the team then.

Final notes: Running back Silas Redd submitted an evaluation request to the NFL but is “definitely leaning toward staying” at USC for his senior season, he said. Redd transferred from the Penn State Nittany Lions in August. ... The Trojans are in the middle of a four-day holiday break before reconvening in El Paso on Wednesday. Many players flew home and are meeting the team in Texas. … Martin, on trying to recruit Rogers while an assistant at Kentucky in 2011: “I knew I didn’t have a shot, but I knew who he was. He wasn’t coming to Kentucky.”

Marqise Lee voted Pac-12 player of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could this be it for Robey?

November, 21, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Nickell Robey has walked down the Coliseum tunnel for a USC Trojans home game 19 times in his three-year college career.

[+] EnlargeNickell Robey
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIWith the NFL draft a possibility for USC captain Nickell Robey, Saturday's walk down the Coliseum tunnel could be the junior cornerback's last. But he'll have to show he has the instincts and speed to overcome his size.
Saturday's 5 p.m. PT game against Notre Dame, then, will be his 20th. It also might be his last.

Robey, a 20-year-old junior cornerback, could leave for the NFL draft after this season. With three full seasons as a starter already on his resume, he's thought of as a potential second- or third-round selection, with his small size the biggest thing holding him back.

Because of that, Saturday's pregame festivities will have a much different feel to them, Robey said Wednesday. As one of four USC captains, he leads the Trojans down the tunnel before each game and starts the run onto the field, too.

"Yeah, it's going to feel different -- it's going to feel a lot different," Robey said. "Because you know something is ahead, and it's waiting for you and it's calling you out.

"You gotta answer to it sooner or later. That time will come one of these days in the future."

At a listed 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Robey will have to prove to teams he has the speed and instincts to overcome the limitations presented by his size. He was on his way to doing that after his sophomore season, but his play has fallen off a bit over the latter half of the 2012 season.

Still, he's a capable playmaker, highly agile in the return game and a far better tackler than most 165-pounders. So it's possible he'll be a valuable commodity over the next few months.

Robey said it hasn't even crossed his mind.

"To be honest, I really haven't been thinking about this stuff at all," he said. "I'm going to think about it later on. I'm going to get around my group of supporters and my important people. I'm going to look at different scenarios and different cases of where I stand.

"After the season, that's gonna get resolved. Decisions are going to be made."

Until then, Robey has to deal with the uncertainty of whether this will be his final home game, his final bowl game and so on.

Senior safety T.J. McDonald said he knows that feeling all too well. He had the same stuff in his mind a year ago, when he was contemplating leaving for the draft after his junior season.

"I know how stressful that situation is, so I'll stay away from him unless he wants to come to me for help," McDonald said. "But, Nickell, if he needs help, I'm always in his corner, he always has me.

"I'm definitely always there with open arms."

McDonald stayed but has seen his draft stock fall from a probable selection in either the late first or early second rounds to the second-or-third-round area he currently occupies, according to early 2013 mock drafts.

With undersized but experienced players like Robey, there's a common understanding that they can't do anything to make themselves taller or otherwise more physically appealing in another collegiate season.

So the smart thing to do, it's often said, is to declare for the draft and attack those deficiencies head-on at the next level.

Robey might decide to do just that, or he might channel McDonald and quarterback Matt Barkley and opt for a fun-filled senior season.

He has another two months to make that decision. And at least one more tunnel walk.

How 50-0 marked crossroads for USC, UCLA

November, 15, 2012
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UCLA Bruins, Southern California TrojansKirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PRESSWIREPlayers from both UCLA and USC remember last season's game with different perspectives.

LOS ANGELES -- When USC's Robert Woods and Dion Bailey were youngsters in Carson, Calif., their Pop Warner team was among the best in the state.

Then, one Saturday morning, they suffered a crushing loss to a team from Carlsbad, quarterbacked by an older prodigy named Tate Forcier. Bailey, now a sophomore linebacker for the Trojans, says he still remembers everything about it vividly today: the first touchdown they allowed, when he knew it was over, when he knew how badly he wanted to forget it and how hard he found he would work to do so.

"That," he says now, pausing for effect, "is the worst I've ever lost."

Bailey and Woods lost 28-6 to a team they never saw again. Take the margin of that loss and more than double it against your biggest rival, and that's about how badly UCLA lost to USC last Thanksgiving weekend: 50-0.

Bailey said he couldn't imagine facing his classmates after a loss of that magnitude.

"Here, at this school, with our tradition, if we lost 50-0, I probably wouldn't show up to school," Bailey said this week. "We didn't have any games after, we weren't bowl-eligible. That was our last game.

"I'd probably just show up for finals, keep my head down and avoid eye contact with everybody."

Of course, UCLA's players had to go to school the week after their devastating loss to USC last season. And they had to play in the conference championship game six days later, too -- against Oregon, the fifth-ranked team in the country.

Given all that, USC receiver Marqise Lee understands what has happened to the UCLA football team since that fateful night at the Coliseum.

"I'd change my mindset, too," Lee said. "Play harder. Play better. That's what they're doing."

UCLA safety Andrew Abbott, a Bruins captain and a former receiver of Matt Barkley's in high school at Mater Dei, said this week that the game was partially responsible for the drastic change he and his teammates made sometime in between December and September.

"It's something that kind of drove players individually," Abbott said. "The team remembers it, and we thought about it and it helped us in the offseason. But it wasn't something like we were like, 'We lost 50-0, let's go get extra work in.' We didn't do that."

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W2W4: USC vs. Arizona State

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
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The USC Trojans (No. 19 BCS, No. 21 AP) haven't lost three straight games in nearly dozen years. They've lost their last two this season. Can they beat Arizona State on Saturday and keep that streak going?

The Trojans lost to Oregon last week and Arizona the week before. Arizona State is coming off of three straight losses, to Oregon, UCLA and Oregon State.

Here are 10 things to watch in Saturday's 12 p.m. PT game:

1. No distractions? Lots of distractions. It's almost laughable to think now that three months ago Lane Kiffin's mantra was "no distractions." This Trojans team has had more distractions than any other program in the country, including this week's firing of a student manager for his admitted deflating of several game balls before last Saturday's loss to Oregon. Kiffin says no one on his staff or team knew about it. Even so, though, it still has been another massive distraction in a season full of them, and it'll be interesting to see if the Trojans can put this one behind them by this time Saturday.

2. What a loss would actually mean? It is not a stretch to say that Kiffin's job could be in jeopardy if the Trojans were to lose Saturday. If they fall to Arizona State, those final two games against UCLA and Notre Dame don't look very inviting, and a five- or six-loss season would at least get a lot of people talking about his job security. USC's streak of 11 straight seasons without three straight losses means something -- the Trojans have consistently been one of the country's best teams throughout the span. Breaking it would signal otherwise.

3. What about Arizona State? Tuesday's practice was dominated by Oregon talk, and Thursday's was overwhelmed by questions about the ball-deflating incident. Kiffin and his players barely talked about Arizona State to the media this week. Of course, that means little about how much preparation the Trojans actually did, but it bears watching. The Sun Devils have lost their last three games, but they're not a bad team. They've played eight of their nine opponents close.

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Nelson Agholor trying to 'defy complacency'

November, 6, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- USC receiver Nelson Agholor had the best game of his college career Saturday, but by the time he went to bed that night, he wasn't even thinking about his 76-yard touchdown catch and 162-yard day.

He was thinking about the onside kick he should have come down with, he said Tuesday. When the Trojans finally attempted an onside kick with five minutes to go against Oregon, Agholor had a chance to recover it safely in bounds, but he took the wrong route to the ball. Nickell Robey then recovered it but was ruled out of bounds, and USC essentially conceded defeat.

"The opportunity came to where I had to make that play," Agholor said. "As I've been coached up to do, I tried to make that play.

"It's a discipline thing. That's something I can control. We've actually coached that up many times, and I let emotions take me away from my fundamentals."

That's the sort of perspective and reflection that has Agholor's position coach, Tee Martin, praising the true freshman from Florida.

"He cares," Martin said. "After each play, if it's not done correct, he'll re-do it, with the right technique.

"It's like Marqise Lee putting pressure on himself for not catching the Hail Mary pass against Arizona. They're both competitors."

Agholor did allow that he was pleased with his performance from the Oregon game. But, he said, a big game provides a new challenge for him this season.

"Since I've been out there with those guys, I've thought there was an opportunity to catch the football and make plays," he said. "I'm excited that I got to do that.

"Now, what it really comes down to is seeing if I can defy complacency this week and in the weeks to come."

Agholor's focus in practice on Tuesday was blocking, according to Martin. That was his deficiency on Saturday, so he wants to be better at it by this Saturday.

"He wants to be great, he wants to be perfect," Martin said. "And I certainly want him to be as well."

Five Storylines: USC-Arizona 

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
11:32
AM PT
The five key storylines as No. 9 USC (6-1 overall, 4-1 Pac 12) takes on Arizona (4-3, 1-3) in a Pac-12 showdown.

1. USC defense vs. Arizona spread offense: On paper, this will be the toughest offensive opponent the Trojans have faced this year. The Wildcats have taken quickly to new head coach Rich Rodriguez’s hurry-up spread offense and the results have been impressive, with almost 550 total yards of offense per game. It will be up to the Trojans' swarming and attacking defense to pressure the quarterback and look for turnovers or stops.

2. Arizona QB Matt Scott vs. USC cornerbacks: To break down the previous point even further, the key battle within the battle will be Scott throwing the ball against a USC cornerback position that has been in flux. Nickell Robey has been solid on one side, but there has been a rotation opposite him, with either Torin Harris or Josh Shaw appearing to be the primary options. The Trojans will probably need both against the quick pace of the Wildcats offense.

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Preparing for Arizona with ... Colorado

October, 24, 2012
10/24/12
4:45
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Like every other college football coach in the country, Lane Kiffin has emphasized to his team and to the media the importance of taking things one game at a time this season and not looking past any opponents.

The thing is, Kiffin himself didn't really abide by his own doctrine last week. The USC coach admitted Wednesday that he used last week's win over Colorado as a trial run for defensive rotations he's going to incorporate further in the coming weeks.

The Trojans felt so confident they would top the Buffaloes with ease, they essentially started to prepare defensively for Arizona and Oregon mid-game, rotating players in and out to practice what the Wildcats' and Ducks' offenses are going to require.

"Even though we didn't expect Colorado to be up-tempo, we didn't want to wait until this week to get used to our rotations and shuffling of guys," Kiffin said. "So we did it even though it was a slower moving offense."

Kiffin said he didn't know if it was rare to install things in game situations down the road.

"It was good, regardless," Kiffin said. "To get guys snaps in the beginning of the game instead of just at the end of the game was critical for us, because we're going to need those guys at some point during the year."

Developing depth is, as it has been all season, an issue for the Trojans. Kiffin has said he's ultra-confident in his first 22 players but indicated the confidence drops off significantly for the second 22.
But USC will need a full second-string worth of defensive players to play effective defense against Arizona on Saturday, and especially against Oregon the next week.

That's why the Trojans subbed so much last week.

"We wanted to not get to this week and all of a sudden have a no-huddle rotation, so even though they weren't in no-huddle we treated our reps that way," Kiffin said. "That's why you really saw all of our guys -- even T.J. (McDonald) and Nickell (Robey) -- rotate in there, which is unusual for us."

USC-Colorado postgame notes

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
11:41
PM PT
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
10/17/12
6:36
PM PT
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.

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PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
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M. Lee5779113.94
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