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Spring Game tidbits + video

4/23/2011

And we're done. USC concluded its 15-practice spring schedule this afternoon with its annual Spring Game at the Coliseum, in which the defense beat the offense, 42-29, in front of 16,850 Trojan fans. We went over Robert Woods' absence -- because of basketball! -- and the defense's overall domination in previous posts. Here's the rest of what went on Saturday, with more coming on a surprise standout Sunday:

Barkley struggles some

Some of the blame for it can undoubtedly be placed on the lack of depth around him, but Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was not at his best Saturday, with two poorly-thrown passes intercepted and only just over half of his passes going for completions.

While complimenting some of his teammates after Saturday's game, he took a little longer to assess his own performance.

"There’s always room for improvement," the junior said. "Those two picks were disappointing. But I was happy with when we moved the ball, we just gotta finish it. We called some run plays and some of those passes just have to be completed, but to finish off the spring game with the touchdown catch was a good feeling."

The good feeling he referred to came on the final play from scrimmage of the 121-play game, when he split out wide from the 3-yard line and was found in the zone on an option pass play by running back Dillon Baxter.

Kiffin said that although Barkley threw almost twice as many passes as the other three quarterbacks combined, his play wasn't very telling simply because of those around him.

"I think it’s hard to evaluate," the second-year coach said. "You guys probably had to go to your rosters a lot to know who the guys were out there who were running routes for him. I think it’s tough to evaluate him in that setting because you just have so many guys who really have never played before."

Injury updates

Other than Woods, running back Marc Tyler also sat out of the game with complications from the concussion he suffered two weeks ago in a Coliseum scrimmage. He had practiced Thursday but evidently didn't pass the necessary post-concussion test he retook leading up to the game.

Running back Dillon Baxter was also questionable to play but suited up and performed well, carrying the ball 14 times for 104 yards and a touchdown. There were three other apparent injuries during the game: running back D.J. Morgan hurt his shoulder and had his arm in a sling following the game, Rhett Ellison hurt his back on a hit from T.J. McDonald but underwent X-rays, which were negative, and receiver Brandon Carswell suffered a concussion.

That's about on par with a normal full-contact scrimmage, but Kiffin sounded pleased that there were no long-term injuries sustained on the Coliseum grass. Last year, defensive tackle Christian Tupou tore his ACL in the Spring Game and missed the whole 2010 season.

"It was good that we stayed healthy for the guys that did play, which is always a scare in this game, especially with what happened last year," Kiffin said. "That was good. Some guys did come out of the game with injuries, but we don’t think any of them are very severe."

Continued struggles

The offensive line has "by far" the most work left to do of any unit on this year's Trojans team, Kiffin said. The five who took the field most often Saturday included, from left to right: left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Giovanni DiPoalo, center John Martinez, right guard Martin Coleman and right tackle Jeremy Galten.

That unit gave up five sacks -- despite the fact that USC didn't blitz a single player on any of those 121 plays.

"As you saw today, we basically played with one player who has played college football, significant snaps of college football," Kiffin said. "We have a lot of work to do there."

Running back success

One Trojan actually thought the offensive line performed admirably: running back Curtis McNeal, USC's leading rusher on the day with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.

In his mind, the five mashers up front created all the space he needed to run through his assigned holes and gather up some yardage.

"The O-line pretty much stepped their game up today," McNeal said. "They took so much criticism throughout the whole spring and today just came out and played. I just did my part and ran the ball.”

Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan added to the collective success of the running back trio with 89 yards on 14 carries, and Baxter ran 14 times for 104 yards -- but couldn't avoid an admonishing from the coaching staff. Kiffin said he and running backs coach Kennedy Pola scolded the sophomore runner for running out of bounds on a 33-yard run early in the third quarter.

Said the notoriously moody Baxter of that claim: "I don’t get it. I just go with it."