- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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As Keyshawn Johnson stood next to Matt Barkley and watched USC’s offense trudge through a sluggish scrimmage, a visibly frustrated Barkley could only wish Johnson was still eligible to run a few more routs down the Coliseum sideline.
USC’s defense dominated the scrimmage, allowing only one late touchdown in 73 plays. Not only was the offense unable to string any big plays together but they also accounted for seven of the eight penalties that took place during the scrimmage.
“The defense dominated today,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “The defense came out flying all over the place and had a great mentality about themselves and it was very good to see the offense help them by not performing very well. I won’t name names but I thought a lot of freshman came in here in an environment where it was hot and did not perform very well; a lot of them on offense, especially. Obviously it’s good that it shows up now and not during a game.”
The offense looked lost at times out there, getting flagged for illegal formations and shifts, which Kiffin blamed on the absence of starting tight end Rhett Ellison, who sat out with a sore ankle.
“Rhett didn’t play today and he moves around a lot for us,” Kiffin said. “That leaves you with a lot of young guys so it leaves you with [fullback] Soma Vainuku and Christian Thomas so we suffered from that today.”
Barkley completed 17-of-28 passes for 154 yards and lead USC to a touchdown on the final drive of the scrimmage when tailback D.J. Morgan scored from five yards out on the final play.
“I thought [Barkley] got a little frustrated because we couldn’t move the ball,” Kiffin said. “I didn’t think he forced the ball. He was frustrated. We didn’t help very much.”
Morgan, who ran for 51 yards on 14 carries, said he was feeling sluggish from the moment he woke up in the morning and it continued into the game.
“I woke up and my knee was feeling sore so I took a pain killer and my body wasn’t used to that and I was feeling weird today,” Morgan said. “I had a lot of opportunities but I didn’t take advantage of them like I should. We weren’t moving the ball well today. We just came out kind of slow. We just didn’t come out as hard as we can and we were sluggish.”
Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins connected on 4-of-5 passes for 48 yards, with an interception during the scrimmage while linebackers Marquis Simmons and Will Andrew each had 6 tackles. Linebacker Dallas Kelley had the lone interception.
While both the offense and defense are suffering from injuries and players being held out ding spring practices, USC safety T.J. McDonald believes the defense is in store for a breakout season and Saturday’s scrimmage was just a sign of things to come.
“All the stuff from last year is behind us,” McDonald said. “This is a new year. We have a whole new level of confidence and a whole new swagger and we’re just trying to get better every day.”