USC: T.J. McDonald

Preparing for the dive, the quarterback and the pitch

December, 24, 2012
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
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.

Postgame notes: Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2012
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."

Trojans cram for Irish history exam

November, 23, 2012
It was 32 years ago, but Scott Tinsley still remembers what it felt like to walk through the tunnel to the Coliseum field that day. You could hear the crowd’s roar get louder with each step.

“It was like you were ready to jump out of an airplane,” Tinsley said.

Those kinds of peak emotions tend to linger, to stay embedded in our memories. Sometimes, a sensation, a smell, the angle of sunlight coming through the trees or a nationally televised football game can trigger them anew.

Tinsley will be back home in Orange County watching Saturday’s game against the No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish with more than a little rooting interest. He was the backup quarterback thrust into the starter’s role the last time the USC Trojans knocked the Irish out of the national championship picture.

That is exactly what the Trojans are trying to do this weekend against the top-ranked and undefeated Irish -- with backup quarterback Max Wittek stepping in for Matt Barkley, just as Tinsley had taken over for Gordon Adams in December 1980, when Notre Dame came in to the Coliseum ranked No. 2 with 9-0-1 record.

For years, Tinsley owned a sports bar and grill in Laguna Niguel. Former players would periodically get together there. Some of them had more accomplished careers, both in college and the NFL, but Tinsley had one thing to brag about: He never played for a Trojans team that lost to the Irish.

“That was something to hang my hat on,” Tinsley said.

This week is all about history lessons at USC, in part because the present has been so bitterly disappointing. This team can redeem itself -- at least partially -- in the eyes of Trojans players who came before it, if USC can spoil Notre Dame’s lofty ambitions. Coach Lane Kiffin is so keen on using that as motivation, he got his team together for a lecture about the history of the rivalry early this week.

“We try to work on that. I don’t think that’s natural for them,” Kiffin said. “It is what it is. It’s what we live in nowadays. We’re dealing with 17- to 21-year-old kids and, for whatever reason, they don’t come here understanding it.”

Only a handful of players on this USC roster were even born in the 1980s, and the Irish haven’t exactly been the dominant program for most of their young lives. One USC player, linebacker Doug Scott, was a month old the last time Notre Dame won a national title.

USC has won nine of the previous 10 meetings with Notre Dame, the only loss coming the last time Barkley missed a game with an injury, in 2010.

It almost takes a family connection for some of them to get the importance of this rivalry. Safety T.J. McDonald’s father, Tim, played defensive back at USC from 1983 to 1986.

“My dad never beat them, so he definitely has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to this rivalry,” the younger McDonald said. “He just tells me it’s a big game. The whole Trojan family is watching. Everyone wants to see how the Trojans are going to play, how they respond from last week.

“We’ve just got to be able to go out there and make a statement.”

Kiffin took his turn as a history professor earlier this week. Defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron gets his turn Friday -- his day to address the team.

“Ten to 20 years from now, when you’re sitting down and watching the game with your kids, how do you want to remember it?” Orgeron said. “You’re always going to remember this game.”

If doing it for their forebears doesn’t do it for these guys, maybe simple spite can motivate them. In previous seasons, Notre Dame was the team trying to win its moment of national glory by knocking USC off the top spot.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Orgeron said. “I know they understand that part of it.”

Heisman candidate Te'o impresses Trojans

November, 22, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- T.J. McDonald understands how hard it is for a defensive player to still be in the Heisman race at this time of year.

So he appreciates what Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te'o is doing this season, with 96 tackles and six interceptions for the undefeated Fighting Irish, who the Trojans host Saturday at the Coliseum (5 p.m. PT, ABC).

"You gotta be making a lot of plays," McDonald said. "You gotta be doing a lot of good things. He's carrying his defense, and that's definitely something that you can respect."

USC linebacker Hayes Pullard lives with Trojans receiver Marqise Lee and supports his Heisman campaign. But he admits he'd cast any postseason ballots he received for Te'o because of the defensive connection.

"I'm still a Marqise fan because he's my friend and roommate," Pullard said this week. "But being a linebacker, I'd give (Te'o) every vote, just being a linebacker and knowing how hard it is to get in there."

Pullard said Te'o "does everything 100 percent."

"I've watched his film -- every play he goes all out," Pullard said. "He plays every single play hard and aggressively."

Te'o goes in the same club with former USC star Brian Cushing as linebackers that Pullard looks up to, the redshirt sophomore said.

"I love his character," Pullard said. "I still look up to him as a linebacker."

Of course, Te'o nearly went to USC, committing to Notre Dame only on the morning of national signing day and spending the last minutes before he actually signed on the phone with former Trojans coach Pete Carroll.

Reminded of that this week and asked if he remembered how close Te'o was to coming to USC, current Trojans coach Lane Kiffin smiled.

"I do," he said.

Could this be it for Robey?

November, 21, 2012
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.

T.J. McDonald vs. Tevin McDonald

November, 14, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC's offensive coaches have probably spent more total time reviewing it, but no Trojans player or staffer has seen more UCLA defensive tape this season than T.J. McDonald.

Why? Because McDonald, the Trojans' star senior safety, has watched every single snap his brother, Tevin, has played for UCLA this season, and Tevin has been one of the Bruins' mainstays as a sophomore safety.

But USC's McDonald doesn't plan on giving his coaches a scouting report on the other McDonald.

And why's that?

"That's not my position to tell them," T.J. McDonald said Wednesday. "But he's not gonna tell them about me, either. They can kind of figure that out. I'm not gonna say what he does well and what he doesn't."

But doesn't he know some of his younger brother's strengths that he could relay to the offensive coaches? And, perhaps more importantly, some of his weaknesses?

"I do," McDonald said. "But that's not my job. My job, and what I do, is between the lines and my defense."

Both McDonalds have emerged into future-NFL safeties at this level, although T.J. has emerged as the clear leader in head-to-head matchups. Last season, he had 10 tackles and an interception against the Bruins, while Tevin had just two tackles.

This year, the brothers' numbers are more even: T.J. has a team-high 83 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed, and Tevin has 62 tackles, one interception and seven passes defensed, plus a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

And the brothers' teams are quite even, at No. 17 and No. 18 in the BCS standings and within five spots in the AP and coaches' polls.

In what may be the last time the two oppose each other on a football field, USC's McDonald said he realizes what 's on the line Saturday.

"There's not more at stake this time, but it is my last go-around. And if we win, I can say he's never beat me," McDonald said. "That is big, and I'll appreciate that further down the road, too."

Their father, Tim, is in his first season as the secondary coach at Fresno State. The Bulldogs have a bye this week, and the elder McDonald plans to be in Pasadena for Saturday's game.

Built to Perform: USC run defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rivalry restored

November, 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- They're meeting somewhere in the middle, squaring up for a USC-UCLA rivalry that's given the word back its meaning.

USC has been just disappointing enough without quite collapsing.

UCLA has been just ascendant enough without quite proving it has ended the football monopoly in Los Angeles.

And so, this Saturday's game in Pasadena carries all the significance, all the potential for smack talk, all the old-fashioned, let's-take-it-out-back fun that it should. The stakes are pretty simple: Whoever wins Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl will play in the Pac-12 title game two weeks later with the hope of being back in the old building on New Year's Day.

What's not to like about that, especially as boring as these games have been lately? UCLA has beaten USC once in the past 14 years, that 2006 shocker that knocked Pete Carroll's team out of the BCS title game. Since then, the Trojans have outscored the Bruins 158-35 head-to-head. The closest UCLA loss has been by two touchdowns.

We live in an era of sanitized speech in sports. These days, the thing that passes for trash talking between these two teams is manufactured. Literally. One of the mini-dramas of last week involved UCLA cornerback Randall Goforth's fake Twitter account and coach Jim Mora's bizarre overreaction to it.

Things might get a little more chippy in the coming days -- and the hostility figures to amp up on game day -- but USC sounded oddly respectful of its cross-town rival following the Trojans' order-restoring 38-17 win over Arizona State Saturday at the Coliseum.

"They're a great team, I've been watching them all season," Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "They've matured and grown way better than the last couple years we've been playing them."

UCLA (8-2) is ranked higher, but USC (7-3) was installed as an early four-point favorite playing on the road, sort of. The guys in Las Vegas have followed this series.

"In years past, we've kind of gotten after UCLA, but they're a different team this year and, obviously, we're not going to take them lightly," defensive end Wes Horton said.

The take-lightly game for USC might have been this past one, with Arizona State sandwiched around a national-interest game against Oregon and the two upcoming rivalry games. Even though USC wraps up the Pac-12 South on Saturday, it might be even more satisfying to knock Notre Dame out of consideration for the national championship the following week.

Kiffin said he never mentioned either of those looming rivals in meetings and practice last week.

"Obviously, they know about it," Kiffin said.

(Read full post)

W2W4: USC vs. Arizona State

November, 9, 2012
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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T.J. McDonald hasn't met his expectations

November, 7, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- Which USC junior star announced in Heritage Hall last December that he'd be passing up the NFL draft and returning for his senior season to finish off some "unfinished business?"

Well, yeah, Matt Barkley, of course.

But safety T.J. McDonald did, too.

And his senior season has failed to reach the expectations set that week in December in much the same way that Barkley's has. McDonald, a three-year starter at free safety, leads the Trojans in tackles, but has produced few big plays. He has intercepted only one pass and has no sacks and just five tackles for loss -- tied for third-best on the team.

McDonald is the fourth-best senior safety in the country, according to Mel Kiper's latest rankings. He was widely projected as the best one three months ago.

Some internet scouting reports are now listing him as a potential third- or fourth-round selection in next April's NFL draft. McDonald was thought to be a possible late-first or second-round selection in the April draft.

Asked about his play after Saturday's loss to Oregon, McDonald said he was doing "alright."

"I feel like I've done some good things and done some things that I want to improve on," McDonald said. "My play's not gonna make too much effect on the entire game. We gotta make sure how we play collectively as a defense."

(Read full post)

The USC 10: Week 10 

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

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

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

What went wrong against Arizona

October, 27, 2012
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The team committing the most penalties per game in the FBS this season, Lane Kiffin's USC Trojans, committed 13 more on Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats, costing themselves 117 crucial yards.

It also cost them the game.

The Trojans' lack of discipline did them in against a Wildcats team they should have comfortably beat. Instead, Arizona won, 39-36, and USC's national-title hopes are officially over. The Rose Bowl game is the only reasonable goal, now.

Perhaps most telling was Kiffin's response to a question about what else he could do to get through to his team on the discipline issue.

"I'm open for any suggestions," Kiffin said, oddly grinning. "I've tried it all."

The Trojans are two-thirds of the way through their regular season. It might be a little too late for suggestions.

Now they await an Oregon Ducks squad that has thoroughly dominated every team it's played this year, and 6-2 USC seems perhaps unlikely to finish the season with anything less than three losses.

On paper, USC has as much offensive talent as any team in the country; and the Trojans' defense hasn't been bad this year. The real problem is discipline ... and big penalties at big moments in the game.

"They hurt a lot," Kiffin said of the untimely flags.

Like the late hit T.J. McDonald was called for in the fourth quarter.

USC's players certainly noticed the flags. Running back Silas Redd said he couldn't believe the Trojans committed 13 more penalties, after averaging 10 through their first seven games.

"The discipline was not there today," said cornerback Josh Shaw: "That was very evident."

D.J. Morgan, USC's leading rusher on the day, offered a more in-depth assessment. He said a number of his teammates played irresponsibly against the Wildcats.

"I feel like some people let their emotions get to them and affect them and committed some selfish penalties," Morgan said. "Penalties are gonna happen in a game. But personal fouls and those ones, we have to be more aware of the situation and be more calm and let them be the ones to mess up.

"We can't retaliate."

Defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who was charged with a personal foul for removing Ka'Deem Carey's helmet in the first quarter, said he wasn't retaliating. He said he wasn't even responsible for removing Carey's helmet ... and he didn't know who did it.

Accountability is clearly an issue, too.

Center Khaled Holmes, one of the Trojans' senior leaders, said he wouldn't call his team undisciplined, although he allowed that emotion did get the best of them at times on Saturday.

Holmes also said USC still had time to redeem itself this season, beginning with Oregon and continuing with Notre Dame and a surprising UCLA team next month.

"If we do well, then this will all be forgotten about," Holmes said.

Unfortunately for USC, that's not totally true. Preseason No. 1 teams who finish with two losses are still considered disappointments.

Preparing for Arizona with ... Colorado

October, 24, 2012
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."

Williams expected to escape further punishment

October, 23, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- USC Trojans freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams has not been suspended by the Pac-12 for the punch he threw against Colorado that earned him an ejection, and it appears unlikely he'll receive any punishment from the conference office.

Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice that he wasn't "allowed" to address Williams' situation.

"I think that's confidential," Kiffin said.

Previously, Kiffin had said he expected to hear back from the conference office Monday about a possible punishment for Williams. USC had not heard anything as of Tuesday afternoon, a school spokesperson said.

No news is typically good news as far as suspensions go, although there remains the possibility that Williams could be suspended for all or part of Saturday's game at Arizona.

"There's no set time on when the conference would announce any public reprimands or suspensions," Pac-12 spokesperson Dave Hirsch wrote in an e-mail Monday afternoon.

But each of the last two USC-related Pac-12 reprimands or suspensions were announced on a Monday or Tuesday.

Safety T.J. McDonald was suspended on a Monday for a half after the loss to Stanford last year. Quarterback Matt Barkley was publicly reprimanded on a Tuesday for comments made the previous week about Vontaze Burfict leading up to the Trojans' eventual loss to Arizona State.

Williams is expected to start at defensive tackle for the Trojans in Tucson this weekend. He told teammates that he punched a Colorado player in the facemask because he was first spit on in a second-quarter pile-up.



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