It was a very Lane Kiffin-esque statement, what he said after Friday's practice concerning the state of the USC running back race, three days after Marc Tyler returned to practice for the first time this fall.
A classic motivating proclamation to his players, something he's surely been saying privately in team meetings as well as publicly in reporter scrums.
“They’re cranking it up a little bit," he said of the four Trojans fighting for the No. 1 spot in the Sept. 3 Minnesota opener and their collective last chances to earn it. "They feel it. We’ve talked to them about it.
"They’re competing right now for national-TV carries. We’ve got a couple of practices left to figure this out.”
Kiffin's right. The game against Minnesota will be on national television -- ABC to be exact, at 12:30 PT eight days from Friday. But the statement was made for one reason, and one reason only: to try to get his players to realize how close they are to the start of the season and how little time they have to prove themselves.
Evidence? In his next breath, he mentioned D.J. Morgan, the redshirt freshman runner who has been up-and-down this fall. Nowhere to be found weere Dillon Baxter and Curtis McNeal in his comments -- not to mention Amir Carlisle, the true freshman who was the surprise star early in camp but hasn't done anything noteworthy for several days now.
“I thought D.J. Morgan had his best practice since he’s been here (Thursday),” Kiffin said Friday. “We’re excited about that."
Morgan did look good, breaking off a number of 20-plus yard runs and other big gainers. He also ran hard -- as he typically does. But, with him, the question is pass protection, and that question can only really be answered in live contact action.
USC has a closed scrimmage on campus Saturday, in which no family or media will be allowed to attend. USC will presumably go at a game-speed for at least a portion of the session. That could be his perfect opportunity to prove to the coaches his mindset toward that aspect of the game has changed.
"D.J. is becoming more consistent where we feel better about him," Kiffin said earlier this week. "He still has to pick up the protection side of things. But he's practicing harder and better and hopefully he'll have a better end of this week and start of next week."