Notes and quotes from Trojans’ head coach Lane Kiffin’s conference call Sunday looking back at USC’s 31-17 win over Notre Dame in South Bend the previous day and looking forward at Saturday’s upcoming matchup against Stanford:
Kiffin credited his staff for enforcing his message of not getting the players too pumped up to play Notre Dame last week. He said, just as he indicated right after the game Saturday, that that made a big difference when it came to the game and how his players were poised and the Irish weren’t as much. The Trojans undoubtedly played their smartest, most mistake-free game of the season. “We didn’t build this game up,” Kiffin said. “And the sense that I got, which I was hoping for, is that they [did.]”
One of the USC head coach’s favorite parts of the win over Irish was, without a doubt, the way his junior quarterback played in the victory and set the example for his teammates. Quite simply, Matt Barkley didn’t make many mistakes, completing 24-of-35 passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. “A really, really clean game with the quarterback play,” Kiffin said. “You can luck into clean games sometimes, but, in general, that game was very clean from a team standpoint but especially from him."
That aside, USC surprisingly didn’t play well on special teams at all in the win for the first time this season. The Trojans gave up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to George Atkinson III that looked as if it would, at one point, buoy the Irish into rallying to tie the score, and an injured Andre Heidari also missed a 32-yarder in the fourth quarter. But, also for the first time this season, USC’s offense and defense actually both played well in the same game. In previous games, the Trojans had been squeezing by less-talented teams than Notre Dame with just one element of their team working well. “The offense did it in the Arizona game and the defense did it in the Cal game and they were just talking about how they wanted to put it all together,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully we can now add the third element (special teams) because we’ll need it to beat Stanford.”
On the topic of special teams, Heidari needed crutches to get around again Sunday, and his sprained right ankle could potentially be an issue in six days against Stanford. He said after the game the issue with his missed kick was the tape on his ankle -- he’d never kicked with it wrapped before -- and that he should have done it without the tape, which is presumably what’ll he’ll do if he ends up playing Saturday. “Obviously that’s not very good,” Kiffin said of Heidari’s crutches. “So we’ll see.” We’ll have more on this Monday.
Saturday, the common refrain from USC players and coaches was that the Trojans had been bombarded with negative remarks and gestures on their way into Notre Dame Stadium before the game. Sunday, Kiffin said they got the same treatment on their way to South Bend Regional Airport after the game. Quipped Kiffin: “I’m sure, by the way, that Mass was full this morning at Notre Dame after all the things that were said to us.”
The flight home itself, though, wasn’t as hyped-up as some players predicted it’d be. Right away it was, but with the traffic-filled bus ride and the standard delays at the airport and all, it was almost silent while they were still in Indiana. “You could feel their energy right away,” Kiffin said, “But they were so tired that probably 95 percent of our plane was asleep before we even took off.
Of course, the final question Kiffin was asked was about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the same guy who Kiffin will be questioned about at least 50 times before he actually faces him on Saturday. This time, the Trojans’ head coach said he couldn’t accurately compare him to some of the other top signal-callers he coached and coached against during his first tenure at USC. But he still had high praise for him. “I think it’s going to be hard to find a more efficient quarterback in the history of college football,” Kiffin said of Luck.