USC: Torin Harris

Notebook: Injuries decimate skill positions

October, 23, 2013
One of the biggest topics for USC fans in the aftermath of the loss to Notre Dame was the impact of the game on the job status of interim coach Ed Orgeron.

It wasn’t that fans pinned the loss on Orgeron but the general consensus was that the loss did great damage to his long-term hopes of getting the permanent job. There were some who thought the damage was too much to overcome while others thought there was still a chance Orgeron could go a run to keep the job. There is still time to compete for a spot in the Pac-12 title game although there is very little wiggle room left. The Trojans would simply have to go on an amazing run through the rest of the season and there couldn’t be a repeat of what was seen on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Damian DovarganesUSC interim coach Ed Orgeron has brought some positive energy to the Trojans.
That will be a daunting task for Orgeron to achieve when you consider the schedule that lies ahead for the Trojans, but he seems bound and determined to keep things positive. His postgame quotes following a crushing loss to the Irish were nothing more than gratitude for the players. And that could be the thing that matters as much as anything for Orgeron and athletic director Pat Haden during the remainder of this season.

It’s not like the Trojans got blown out or embarrassed in any way. They lost a tough game on the road where the realities of this particular team were on full display -- injuries, penalties, key mistakes, etc. at the wrong time.

One of the consistent praises you heard after the game, however, was for the effort from the team. Even in the face of one of those nights where so many bounces of the ball went against them, the Trojans fought to the end. And that’s where Orgeron wants to keep them. He wants to build upon the good energy he has brought during his tenure and not let one defeat put a halt to that momentum.

Kicking open the door of competition

Orgeron announced on Monday that he would be opening up the kicking competition this week in practice after Andre Heidari -- for the second time this year -- missed two field goals that could have provided the margin of victory in a game.

Other candidates in the competition will include Alex Wood and Craig McMahon, both of whom have seen action with extra points and kickoffs but have yet to attempt a field goal for the Trojans. The odds are that Heidari will end up keeping his job at the end of this week but it doesn’t hurt to have a little competition to get things kick-started, no pun intended.

Injury woes

There isn’t any way to sugarcoat what is going on with the Trojans and injuries right now. A look at the offensive side of the ball during the Tuesday practice showed a veritable MASH unit of sidelined players and a whole lot of walk-ons sprinkled among the active players.

At wide receiver, the Trojans ended the practice with only one scholarship receiver -- Darreus Rogers -- but that must have seemed like a bonus to the tight end spot, where no scholarship players were available. Add to that a running back position that is dealing with the news that freshman sensation Justin Davis will be out for the remainder of the regular season with an ankle injury and you have the makings of a real depletion of talent at the skill positions.

Position switch

It appears as if Josh Shaw is on the move again. After beginning his USC career at safety in 2012, Shaw got moved to corner midway through last season and played well. In spring 2013, however, he moved back to safety and seemed to have found a home in a spot where he was comfortable. But injuries and inconsistent play have reversed that course and this week Shaw finds himself back at corner.

It’s no secret that the cornerback position has been hit-and-miss this year and for the last three weeks it has been mostly a miss. Opposing offenses have found a recipe for success with attacking the Trojans cornerback spot no matter who was there from Kevon Seymour to Torin Harris to Anthony Brown. No matter how much the coaches preferred to keep Shaw at safety, this latest move is one that makes sense because the other options weren’t working. With Shaw now out of the safety rotation, look for Leon McQuay III to steadily get more time. McQuay has looked solid lately on the practice field, particularly on special teams as a kick blocker.

Notebook: Cravens latest to injure knee

April, 5, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- Injuries continue to be one of the big stories for the Trojans this spring as it was confirmed after practice that both George Farmer and Su’a Cravens will undergo knee surgeries.

The news was more dire for Farmer after Kiffin confirmed the earlier media reports of a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, which will force him to miss the 2013 season. For Cravens, he has a torn meniscus in his right knee and will undergo surgery Friday. The injury is the same as the one suffered by Silas Redd. Cravens is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and will be back in plenty of time for fall camp.

Su'a Cravens
Garry Paskwietz/WeAreSC.comSu'a Cravens is the latest USC player to get dinged in spring practice.
“Whenever there is an injury you hope, like Su’a, that’s it’s not going to be a long setback,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “With guys like George, those are the ones you feel really bad for. A guy who battles back and was playing well and then to have this setback.”

The Trojans entered the Thursday practice session with 20 players out of action because of injury and two more left practice – Torin Harris and Cyrus Hobbi.

“I don’t see any way we could practice like this in the fall. We wouldn’t be able to play a game,” Kiffin said. “Of the 22 guys who ended up being out today, 18 of them are scholarship players. With the roster reductions we already have we would not be able to give up that many players. We will start fall camp practicing this way, but I don’t think we will end fall camp this way.”

There was some good news on the injury front as Marqise Lee returned, albeit in a limited role, after missing two-and-a-half weeks with a knee injury. Lee seemed to be running fine with no major issues but he was held out of contact team drills. Kevon Seymour and Jordan Simmons also returned to action.

“Marqise was back, which was obviously good to see,” Kiffin said. “He basically took part in the first hour of practice and we’ll add to him as we go.”

George Uko was out today and J.R. Tavai took his spot with the first unit at defensive end. During the final team drill, Aundrey Walker was out and Max Tuerk had moved to center with Hobbi out, so the first unit left side of the line was walk-on Nathan Guertler at tackle and Giovanni Di Poalo at guard.

Receiver shuffle

With Farmer out, that means opportunities for players such as Victor Blackwell and De’Von Flournoy along with first-year players Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell. Kiffin also made sure to note the high level of play from Nelson Agholor this spring when discussing the receiver group.

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Injuries continue mounting for USC

April, 3, 2013
As the USC Trojans begin their fourth week of spring ball, it has become apparent that injuries are taking a toll, as 19 players sat out on Tuesday and two more left practice due to injury.

[+] EnlargeUSC's George Farmer made little impact during his freshman season.
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comGeorge Farmer is waiting for an MRI after being carted off the field on Tuesday with an apparent left leg injury.
Both wide receiver George Farmer and defensive back Demetrius Wright were forced to depart the Tuesday practice early due to injuries and there was no word on their status at the end of the day. Wright was walking and appeared to be fine, but there was concern about Farmer, who had to be carted off the field after suffering an apparent left leg/knee injury during a non-contact drill. Results of an MRI for Farmer are expected on Wednesday.

“It was a very physical practice,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I liked the defensive mentality at the end in the goal-line drill. It’s been a very competitive spring. It reminds me of the spring when we first got here. We need that to establish a competitive mindset.”

As Kiffin mentioned, the Trojans ended practice with a goal-line drill that got started with Hayes Pullard stuffing a run up the middle by Buck Allen. Justin Davis tried to slash into the end zone, but J.R. Tavai came across the line and knocked the ball out as he was bringing Davis to the ground, although Randall Telfer recovered for the offense. Davis did punch in a score at the end for the offense. There was also a little skirmish between a few offensive and defensive players after one play.

“It’s always a tough line between physical play and getting penalties with the goal-line drill,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin speaks with Enfield
Kiffin said he talked with new USC basketball coach Andy Enfield on Sunday night, prior to the announcement that Enfield had taken the job.

“I talked to him about the program and about working with Pat (Haden) and Max (Nikias),” Kiffin said. “I think it’s a great hire. He brings an exciting style of play and kids will want to play in that style. He’s also a guy who understands the academic side of being at a private school.”

Brady on campus
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady worked out on the USC campus Tuesday, throwing passes to his new receiver, Danny Amendola. Kiffin said it is common for NFL quarterbacks to use the USC facilities in the offseason, mentioning Philip Rivers, Drew Brees and Matt Cassel as players who had thrown recently on the USC field.

Highlight plays
* Anthony Brown knocked away a pass at the sideline intended for Nelson Agholor. Brown has put together a very solid spring while consistently in the lineup as one of the starting corners.

* A few plays later, however, Brown went for a pick on a rope thrown over the middle by Max Wittek and missed, allowing De’Von Flournoy to go for a long gain. Flournoy also had a touchdown later in the drill when he caught a pass from Max Browne and split the safeties with his speed.

* Victor Blackwell caught a short pass and got loose from Torin Harris with a nice shake move.

* Kevin Greene had a sack on Cody Kessler.

* Ryan Henderson had a pick off Kessler, who was trying to get the ball to Blackwell.

* George Uko had a nice play to move along the line of scrimmage in pursuit of Davis and hold him to no gain.

* Davis provided yet another dazzling touchdown run, this one a 45-yarder behind a block from Kevin Graf.

* Allen had a 20-yard gain down the left sideline thanks to Jahleel Pinner, who got one block at the line and then hustled down field to get another block.

* Browne hooked up on a 25-yard pass to walk-on Robby Kolanz on the right sideline.

Notables in attendance
Nico Falah, Steven Mitchell, Adoree’ Jackson, Dwight Williams, Chase Blakley

Thursday spring practice notes

March, 29, 2013
It was a spirited, full-pads practice session for the Trojans on Thursday and one that featured a nice performance from the offense. This was welcome news to USC coach Lane Kiffin, particularly after the defense had dominated a practice earlier in the week.

“The offense did a lot better today,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see them bounce back that way after what happened on Tuesday. They came out today with a much better mindset.”

[+] EnlargeD.J. Morgan
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillBefore leaving practice with an undisclosed injury, D.J. Morgan was making a case to jump toward the front of USC's RB rotation.
The solid play was spread around through many players but one area that really stood out was the run game. With Silas Redd out for spring with injury and Tre Madden limited in contact, the tailback work has fallen to the trio of D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen and Justin Davis, and they responded on Thursday.

It was Davis who got things going with a pair of long touchdown runs in a team drill. The smooth freshman, who has provided multiple promising moments in his brief time at USC, took both runs to the left side and showed a combination of speed and moves to get to the end zone.

Morgan followed in the next drill with a 10-yard touchdown run, showing a quick burst through the line. A few plays later, Morgan took a handoff and went down in a pile after a short gain. When he came up, he was limping a little and did not return.

Allen took his turn as the lead runner at the end of the day when the Trojans were in goal-line situations. The chatter between the offense and defense had reached a crescendo as time was running out in practice and both sides were eager for victory. With the ball at the five-yard line, Allen was able to punch in two touchdowns, including the final play of the day to signal a win for the offense. Davis also had a short touchdown run in the goal-line drill.

“I thought D.J. Morgan was having a very good day before he went down,” Kiffin said. “Justin Davis had a great day.”

It was also a good day at the quarterback spot, Max Wittek looked much better than he did on Tuesday, while Max Browne had his best practice as a Trojan.

Wittek got things going early with a deep touchdown pass to De’Von Flournoy against solid coverage from Ryan Henderson.

In a red-zone drill, Browne hit Nelson Agholor as Torin Harris went for the ball and missed, so Agholor was able to go in for the 20-yard score. Browne also hit a pair of short touchdowns to Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick. The highlight throw of the day for Browne came when he hit Farmer on a 55-yard completion. It was yet another sign of the accurate touch that Browne has shown on the deep ball so far, and of the fact that Farmer is continuing to make plays as well.

“George has stayed healthy and he’s doing well,” Kiffin said. “We need him to make the hard plays, to be physical, and he’s doing that. It’s been great to see.”

O-line adjusting to coaching changes
One of the primary areas of emphasis for the Trojans this year will be to get more physical, and that starts with the line. To that end, Kiffin has put two coaches on the offensive line, adding Mike Summers and keeping James Cregg, who had been the line coach for the past three years, as his assistant. There was some curiosity as to how the arrangement would work but, through the first three weeks, Kiffin is pleased with what he sees.

“Mike Summers has done a really good job of coming in and capturing the group,” Kiffin said. “It’s worked out like we had hoped with the two of them in combination, that’s why we put two coaches at such an important position.”

Injury report
Xavier Grimble will miss the remainder of spring with a chest fracture. There was no update on Morgan after practice. Jordan Simmons missed practice after getting sick earlier in the afternoon.

Defensive highlights
* Ryan Henderson had multiple solid tackles on the day coming up from his corner position. Two of them were on Agholor, including one at the end of the day when emotions were high and his big hit brought a huge roar from the defensive sideline.

* Anthony Brown also had a solid tackle for no gain from the corner spot.

* Josh Shaw read a screen pass from Cody Kessler to Agholor and he was able to bat the ball down.

* J.R. Tavai recorded a sack of Browne.

* Leonard Williams tracked Davis along the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Notables in attendance
Naijiel Hale, David Sills, Steven Mitchell, Nico Falah and several members of the Chaminade Eagles program.

“It was a slow adjustment at first for me because things are so different at this level. There were little things I could get away with in high school, some bad habits, but you need to pay attention to those techniques here. I’m getting those little things down right now. The good thing is that I get a first chance to learn everything now in spring and then I will get another camp in the fall. That will really help me learn the playbook. I’m not sure about redshirting, I’ll just work hard every day and see what happens.” -- Justin Davis

Injuries raise questions, provide chances

March, 20, 2013
The Trojans are navigating through their share of injuries this spring. But at this time of year, as long as the injuries are not serious, they can offer a mixed blessing of sorts.

When one player is forced to sit on the sideline, it gives another player the chance for extended reps with the hope of showing the coaches he is ready for a bigger role. For the injured player, there is still plenty of time to return either in spring or in fall camp before the season begins. As quarterback Max Wittek noted after a recent knee injury, “you never want this to happen, but if it’s going to happen, better to have it happen now.”

[+] EnlargeRedd_Silas
AP Photo/Grant HindsleySilas Redd's knee injury opens the door for other USC tailbacks to impress this spring.
Wittek is perhaps the most notable USC injury right now, primarily because he is engaged in a battle for the starting quarterback spot. Wittek suffered the knee sprain on March 9 prior to a scrimmage at the Coliseum and has been out ever since. He is expected to return when the Trojans practice on March 26. Cody Kessler has played well with Wittek out and any small gains by either player can end up meaning a lot in a competition that is so close.

On the same day that Wittek got hurt, Marqise Lee also went down with a “minor” knee injury and has been held out as well. There isn’t as much of an impact here as Lee certainly isn’t in any competition for his starting job. If anything, his absence gave the other receivers a chance to step up and the overall group is doing well from top to bottom. Right now, Nelson Agholor appears to be the clear leader for the starting spot opposite Lee.

A recent loss came with the news that Silas Redd would undergo surgery this week for a torn meniscus. Redd is the established senior starter at tailback, but he has only been on the USC campus for eight months, so any time spent on the field was beneficial. Instead, Redd will be out until fall camp and the Trojans are further limited at tailback with Tre Madden still not cleared for full contact due to his knee rehab. That means the remaining spring practices will be huge for guys like D.J. Morgan, Buck Allen and maybe even Justin Davis, although it remains to be seen how much a recent broken finger will hamper him.

The offensive line had been fairly healthy until the news that Chad Wheeler will miss the rest of spring with a knee injury. Wheeler had added bulk and was progressing nicely as the No. 2 left tackle.

On the defensive side of the ball, injuries are really impacting the interior depth on the line and the safety positions.

There are three linemen who have missed all of spring: J.R. Tavai, Greg Townsend and Cody Temple. All three figure to provide important depth at the three interior spots of the 5-2 defense, so it’s vital to get them back on the field. Right now, the Trojans have Kenny Bigelow as a legit reserve at nose tackle, but the other spots are being manned by players out of position such as Charles Burks. Scott Starr is also out of action until fall, and he is expected to be a key reserve behind Morgan Breslin.

[+] EnlargeDion Bailey
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAs Dion Bailey recovers from shoulder surgery, the question of whether he'll play safety or linebacker in 2013 remains unanswered.
In the secondary, the Trojans have a lot of talent but not much is going to be settled until the coaches figure out where to put Dion Bailey. Most speculation centers around Bailey ending up at safety rather than linebacker, but he won’t be available for spring after recent shoulder surgery. So Josh Shaw, Demetrius Wright and Su’a Cravens are auditioning for starting spots. Gerald Bowman could also be in that mix, but he is also out this spring. This means it’s likely the safety rotation won’t be determined until well into fall camp.

At corner, the top player through the early part of spring was Kevon Seymour, but he has missed the last couple of days with an ankle injury. Devian Shelton is also out with a foot injury. That means extended reps for Torin Harris, Anthony Brown and Ryan Henderson, as well as the freshman Chris Hawkins.

USC coach Lane Kiffin said after Saturday’s scrimmage that the time off for spring break this week was coming at a good time for a team looking to get a few bodies back. The Trojans return to the practice field next Tuesday and having some of those injured players on the field will go a long way toward helping to determine starting spots.

Kiffin also acknowledged that the extra hitting in practices so far this spring -- done to achieve his goal of returning to a more physical style of play -- has played a part in having so many injuries. He said the team will continue to practice with full hitting for the rest of spring but gave no word on if there will be any changes in philosophy beyond that point.

Week Two: Spring depth chart 

March, 15, 2013
The Trojans are almost two weeks through spring ball, and while it is still early, here’s a look at how the team’s depth chart might shake out if the season were to start today.

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

USC spring practice report: March 12

March, 13, 2013
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
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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Five Storylines: USC-Arizona 

October, 25, 2012
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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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.

Kiffin: Revisiting Washington

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

Here are notes and quotes from the call:

BCS standings of little importance

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

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

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

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

So there will be opportunities to improve.

The three concerns

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

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

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

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

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

Shaw not locked in yet

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

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

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

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

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

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."

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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.

USC-UW: What to watch

October, 12, 2012
USC last week played its best game of the season against Utah. Now the Trojans face Washington in Seattle on Saturday in a matchup that could propel them past their next few opponents into next month's highly anticipated home game against Oregon.

We take a look at 10 things to watch in tomorrow's action.

1. Matt Barkley. It sort of went unnoticed at the time, but USC's quarterback really had a fantastic game against the Utes. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty close -- it wasn't far off from his best games late in the 2011 season. Can he keep that going against the Huskies? If he does, don't be surprised if his name reappears in Heisman race charts next week. Seattle is also the only Pac-12 city Barkley has not played in yet.

2. Keith Price. USC coach Lane Kiffin has referred to Washington's Price all week as an "elite quarterback." Part of that is standard coach-speak during game week, but Price is a threat -- a bigger threat than the Trojans have faced at the position all season. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib was probably the best of the bunch in USC's first five games, but he still left something to be desired. Price can be quite good, although he hasn't played particularly well this year, with his numbers coming up short compared to last season.

3. McNeal, Redd and Morgan. D.J. Morgan sure got healthy at the right time, huh? USC's top two running backs were hurt against Utah. Imagine if Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd had been out for an extended period of a previous game and the Trojans had to use Soma Vainuku for a stretch. McNeal and Redd have said they'll play this week, but with the way Morgan played last week, it's likely he'll get some opportunities, too. It looks like the Trojans' ball-carrier rotation is going to shape up as follows: Redd, McNeal, then Morgan. Let's see if that's right this week.

4. Kiffin-Sarkisian. It's an ideal coaching rivalry. Two coaches who used to work together and are still friends will go against each other for the third time, and their similarities are undeniable. Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are good recruiters, they're about the same age, and both are in charge of up-and-down teams this season. It's not just two men from the same coaching tree; it's two men who shared coaching responsibilities as recently as six years ago and co-recruited Barkley.

5. The second corner. It's gotten near breaking-point status now: Torin Harris hasn't played corner consistently. But Kiffin and secondary coach Marvin Sanders are apparently convinced that he's the Trojans' best option there, so they're going with him -- again -- over Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw, among others. If Harris has another poor performance, you have to figure he'll be removed from the starting lineup for at least USC's next game. This is a big game for him, then.

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