USC: Tyron Smith

Offensive line still struggling

August, 15, 2011
8/15/11
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Lane Kiffin thought he was starting to get his offensive line figured out when he penciled in Kevin Graf at right tackle to join Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes and moved mammoth freshman Aundrey Walker over to right guard last week.

Not so fast, coach.

The Trojans' offensive line, the team's biggest weakness, struggled mightily in Sunday's three-hour scrimmage at the Coliseum -- even Graf, who Kiffin had previously complimented earlier in camp. They allowed sacks, they failed to create significant room for running backs to roam and altogether hardly ever dominated, even when going as a first-string unit head-to-head against second-stringers.

“Same story,” Kiffin said when asked about his line. ”The center and left tackle are playing well. The right tackle was a little shaky today, as you saw out there. He gave up a sack and one or two false starts.”

The guards were the weakest link, Kiffin said. Walker started at right guard and didn't do particularly well, and the next player to earn a shot at left guard, Abe Markowitz, didn't either. And backups John Martinez and Martin Coleman also weren't on top of their games.

“It didn’t feel or look like anybody played well at guard,” Kiffin said. "They’re just not performing consistent. It’s kind of expected from Aundrey (Walker) for a guy that’s not only a true freshman but just moved positions five days ago.

"We just have to continue to improve.”

This isn't a surprise, of course. Kiffin has long known picking his guards would be an issue, especially when Michael Reardon retired early this offseason and Tyron Smith left early for the draft, forcing Graf to play right tackle. But did he anticipate it being this difficult?

We don't know, but we do know this: the Trojans have fewer than 20 days left before their season opener against Minnesota on Sept. 3. At this point, it appears like it will be two of four players who win those spots -- the same four, Markowitz, Walker, Coleman and Martinez, who played extensively in Sunday's scrimmage.

Juco transfer Jeremy Galten may also still have a shot, but that's about it. Freshmen Cyrus Hobbi, Marcus Martin and Cody Temple, who's been out with a back injury, never got any sort of look in camp at the guard spots, and neither did David Garness, the other juco lineman.

Tyron Smith to attend NFL draft in New York

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
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Former USC right tackle Tyron Smith will attend the NFL draft festivities in New York City later this month despite uncertainty surrounding the event because of the NFL lockout.

Smith, projected by some as one of the top 10 prospects for this month's NFL draft, said it wasn't hard to make the decision on whether to attend once he found out he was invited.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I just want to take advantage of it," Smith said Wednesday at the conclusion of USC's annual pro day. "I don't know who would want to miss it."

Smith, 20, is also one of the youngest players in this year's draft class. He won't turn 21 until December, well into his rookie season. At pro day on Wednesday, he worked out for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, including three general managers and two head coaches.

Dallas' Jason Garrett was one of the two head men. His Cowboys pick ninth overall and have been rumored to be interested in Smith's services.

Pro Day tidbits plus some video

March, 30, 2011
3/30/11
9:49
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As our coverage of Pro Day continues, we've already went over Tyron Smith and Jurrell Casey's workouts on USC's campus on Wednesday and Mitch Mustain's rebound from his February arrest.

Other things of note from the festivities: 31 of the 32 NFL teams were represented, including three general managers and two head coaches, Oakland's Hue Jackson and Dallas' Jason Garrett. Former Trojans who aren't exiting college this year weren't allowed to participate because of the NFL lockout, putting guys like Keary Colbert out of commission, but former USC receiver Travon Patterson did return to campus after transferring to Colorado last summer. Discus thrower Aaron Dan, a graduating member of the Trojan track and field team, also participated.

And two last tidbits: most USC assistants were there for at least part of the day, but head coach Lane Kiffin was nowhere to be found. The 40-yard dash and bench-press leaders on the day were both players with very small chances to be drafted, receiver David Ausberry (4.46 40) and offensive guard Zack Heberer (38 reps of 225 pounds).

Now here's the key info on the other former Trojans who participated Wednesday who have legitimate shots to be drafted, player-by-player in alphabetical order:

- Running back Allen Bradford

Bradford was timed as fast as 4.54 seconds on some stopwatches but the general consensus had him somewhere in the 4.6 range, not a positive development for the back, who needed a better time to convince NFL teams of his viability as a feature back. He did prove himself, though, as a capable pass-catcher in drills with Mustain and seemed to be proud of that afterward.

"I think that was kinda my downside -- a lot of people didn't think I could catch the ball out of the backfield because I didn't get it thrown to me, but I didn't drop the ball and I finished well on my runs," he said Wednesday.

- Tight end Jordan Cameron

Cameron looked very good, if not great, in position drills, catching most everything thrown his way by Mustain. He chose not to participate in the 40-yard dash or the bench press because of his positive numbers in the combine in those.

We'll have more on Cameron tomorrow.

- Receiver Ronald Johnson

Johnson's 40 time wasn't great -- only 4.49 -- but he was solid in position drills and looked very agile in shuttle and three-cone drills.

"I didn't feel good about it, but it is what it is and I can't do it over," he said of the 40 time. "They can see my speed out on the field in my routes and in my breaks, so that should make up for the 40 I ran."

We'll have more on Johnson's performance tomorrow.

- Offensive guard Butch Lewis

Lewis did 31 repetitions of 225 pounds and was timed in the 40 as fast as 5.09 seconds, but he didn't look too crisp in offensive line drills.

- Linebacker Michael Morgan

Morgan didn't look good in position drills or shuttle drills, but he did run a solid 40-time in the low 4.4's, ranging from 4.47-4.49. He tripped up on the three-cone drill.

- Center Kristofer O'Dowd

O'Dowd has been perhaps the most surprising workout warrior of the former Trojans, a guy who many expected to be more of a gamer type who would struggle in workouts. He looked good at the NFL Combine last month and he looked good again Wednesday in the limited drills he did do -- specifically offensive line-specific blocking drills.

"Coming into the combine, I had the focus and drive to show who I am, to show what school I’m from and to show who we are as offensive linemen," O'Dowd said. "I’m very happy. I exceeded what my goals were at the combine. So I wanted to come out here, do a little workout and kind of show in my last interview who Kris O’Dowd is."

- Linebacker Malcolm Smith

Smith may have helped himself the most of anybody Wednesday, beating the speedster Johnson with a 40-yard dash timed as fast as 4.45 seconds and also pushing out 28 repetitions in the bench press. His other numbers were reported at 39 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet, 5 inches in the broad jump, solid figures both.

He tripped up in the shuttle drill but rebounded to finish strong.

- Cornerback Shareece Wright

Wright pulled up during defensive back drills near the end of the workout and didn't get up for a while, but the school announced his injury wasn't believed to be more serious than a pulled hamstring.

He didn't run a 40 after running it in 4.46 seconds at the combine.

USC's top prospects talk pro day

March, 30, 2011
3/30/11
5:30
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USC has two players who could go in the first round of next month's 2011 NFL draft: offensive tackle Tyron Smith (above) and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (below).

Smith is a sure bet to go in the first round, a likely top 20 selection and a possible top 10 pick, even. Casey has an outside shot to be among the first 32 picks, with an early-to-mid second-round spot a more likely destination for him.

Both players worked out at Wednesday's pro day on the USC campus in front of NFL scouts, coaches and general managers.

Smith finished with an impressive 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and ran two 40-yard dashes timed as fast as 4.93. Casey ran a 5.04 40-yard dash on both attempts despite pulling his hamstring near the end of his second run.

NFL Combine recap

March, 3, 2011
3/03/11
5:29
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The annual athletic workout headquarters that is the NFL Combine finished Tuesday in Indianapolis. Here's a recap of what the eight former Trojans participating in the festivities did over the five days of competition:

Allen Bradford, RB, 5-11, 242 pounds

Bradford weighed in at a fairly remarkable 242 pounds, which made him the 4th-heaviest running back out of 39 participants at the position, and the three guys in front of him -- Georgia's Shaun Chapas, Pittsburgh's Henry Hynoski and Stanford's Owen Marecic -- were all college fullbacks. His 40-yard dash time of 4.58 wasn't spectacular, but it was a respectable 15th out of the 39 prospects. His 28 bench-press repetitions at 225 pounds were third-best among all offensive players at the combine, and reports had him looking better than expected in the passing drills.

What'll he probably try to do is lower his 40-time a few hundredths of a second for USC's Pro Day later this month. If he can't do that, he runs the risk of being pigeonholed into the fullback spot at the next level.

Jordan Cameron, TE, 6-5, 254 pounds

There were high expectations for Cameron in some circles, but the converted receiver came out and exceeded them over the weekend in Indy. He ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash time of any tight end (4.59) and recorded the second-highest vertical jump (37.5 inches) too. He won the 3-cone drill and also finished in the top five in the bench press and the broad jump and reportedly caught nearly everything thrown his way in pass-catching drills.

Cameron could have just played his way into a mid-round selection. At the very least, he'll be listed as a top sleeper pick on a ton of internet mock drafts over the next couple months.

Jurrell Casey, DT, 6-1, 300 pounds

Casey's 40 times had a wide variance, running as fast as 4.93 and as slow as 5.17. His overall time of 5.06 wasn't good enough to put him in the Top 15 in that category among defensive linemen, and none of his drill times were even close, either. For that, Casey probably goes down as someone who hurt himself a tad at the combine, although he wasn't really expected to wow anybody in the weight room to begin with. His stock is on the low end now, though, with most mock drafts sticking him around the second or third round.

Stanley Havili, FB, 6-0, 227 pounds

Havili did not work out at the combine, for reasons that are not currently clear. He did undergo shoulder surgery shortly after the end of the 2010 season and was sporting a sling on it in January, so he could be waiting until Pro Day to work out for NFL scouts. He did weigh in at 227 pounds, slightly more than the weight he played at while at USC but probably not enough to ease teams' doubts that he's too small to play fullback in the NFL.

Ronald Johnson, WR, 5-11, 199 pounds

Johnson finished with an official 40-time of 4.46, which tied for ninth-best among all receivers at the combine. He didn't participate in most of the other drills, but he did bench a respectable 16 repetitions. Johnson probably helped himself some with his measurements, though, as some scouts probably expected him to measure in smaller and lighter than those numbers.

He played at 185 in college, so the weight increase represents a significant improvement.

Kristofer O'Dowd, C, 6-4, 304 pounds

O’Dowd, a four-year starter who some scouts think has already reached his peak, finished tied for first among offensive linemen in the vertical jump (32.5) and tied for seventh in the 20-yard shuttle (4.59). He also ranked fifth in the bench press (31) and seventh in the 40-yard dash (5.16) and also finished in the top 10 in the broad jump.

So, yes, O'Dowd clearly helped himself.

Tyron Smith, RT, 6-5, 307 pounds

Smith didn't do anything besides the bench press -- and weigh in. But those two activities were plenty enough to create some buzz around him for Pro Day, as Smith weighed in at a hefty 307 pounds, 22 more than his listed playing weight during the 2010 season. He also did 29 bench-press reps.

Shareece Wright, CB, 5-11, 185 pounds

Wright ran a solid 4.46 40-yard dash time, which tied for seventh-best among cornerbacks, and recorded a 34.5 inch vertical jump and 9'5" broad jump. Reports had him looking polished during defensive back drills, which is a good sign for Wright, as one major criticism of him during his senior season was that he simply wasn't enough of a ballhawk for the next level.

USC's Pro Day is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. on March 30, four weeks from today. A number of Trojans who didn't get combine invites are expected to work out for NFL scouts at USC's pro day, including linebackers Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan, quarterback Mitch Mustain, running back C.J. Gable and receiver David Ausberry. Kicker Joe Houston, punter Jacob Harfman and offensive guards Butch Lewis and Zach Heberer are also possibilities.

NFL combine preview

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
5:12
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The NFL combine begins Thursday in Indianapolis. Eight USC prospects have earned invites to the festivities and will attempt to showcase their talents to the bevy of coaches and scouts in attendance.



Let's take a look at each prospect, with an eye on draft position and potential workouts where they could excel during this next week. They're sorted in alphabetical order, with listed height and weights from their USC biographies. Keep in mind that these measurements will probably be heavily adjusted in the next week after players are officially measured by the NFL:

Allen Bradford, RB, 6-0, 235 pounds

Bradford has the body type NFL teams like to see in a big, bruising runner, but his speed is questionable at best. His goal in Indianapolis, then, is simple: run a 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds or faster to show scouts and coaches he can be more than just an occasional ball carrier.

Another necessary task to prove that: perform well in catching drills. Bradford caught only eight passes in four years at USC and has serious questions attached to his pass-play skills.

Jordan Cameron, TE, 6-5, 245 pounds

Cameron screams workout warrior in every sense of the phrase. He never produced much of anything while at USC -- he totaled 16 catches for 126 yards and 1 TD in two seasons, plus a redshirt year -- but always possessed the potential to start, the potential to be a great pass-catching weapon.

He still has that potential. Teams know he's quicker, more agile and in possession of better hands than the average tight end prospect. Where he needs to prove himself is in blocking, so he'll need to let loose on the weights and display that he has all of the necessary footwork down pat.

Jurrell Casey, DT, 6-1, 300 pounds

Casey has been criticized by scouts recently for not having an ideal body type. He's short and squatty, they say, and not a premiere athlete.

What's wrong with that? Casey is, regardless of natural athletic ability, one of the best run-stopping tackles in this draft, without a doubt. He won't be a 10-sack guy at the next level, but he's quick and smart enough to warrant selection as an early second-rounder. To do that, he's got to make a team fall in love with his motor and line-specific skills, so the defensive line drills will be big for him this week.

Showing up with a more chiseled upper body wouldn't hurt, either.

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Every day until Friday, we’ll tackle one key question facing the USC football team in 2011 and attempt to answer it logically. Feel free to leave your potential answer in the comments section each day.

Wednesday's question involved the sanctions' likely effect on 2011 recruiting class. Today, we present the fourth of our five questions: Who will replace the two departed players for the NFL at DT and RT? Will they be able to approach Jurrell Casey and Tyron Smith's effectiveness?

[+] EnlargeJurrell Casey
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIJurrell Casey is entering the NFL Draft, but the Trojans might not lose too much.

USC had two players named to the All-Pac-10 First Team -- defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and right tackle Tyron Smith.

How fitting it is, then, that the two are the Trojans' only two players to choose to depart school early and enter the 2011 NFL Draft. But such is life when you're dealing with talented junior players, and, although both players had said they were 50-50 on their decisions after the season finale, it's certainly not a head-scratcher to see both of them decide to go.

Now, the question is this: How do you replace your two best players who you hadn't counted on losing?

There's no easy answer, and, especially in Smith's case, there may be no answer for a long while. But finding reasonable solutions at both positions, sooner rather than later, is key to USC's 2011 success.

First, Casey.

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Tyron Smith earns award from peers

December, 20, 2010
12/20/10
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Outgoing USC right tackle Tyron Smith was named the offensive winner of the peer-voted Morris Trophy, the Pac-10 announced Monday.

Smith, a Moreno Valley native, also earned All-Pac-10 First Team honors earlier this month after a junior season in which he started 12 of 13 games. He will bypass his senior season at USC and enter the 2011 NFL Draft early, it was announced last week.

Smith becomes the Trojans' second consecutive Morris award-winner. Left tackle Charles Brown won the award last year before being selected in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Indianapolis Colts.

The 40 starting Pac-10 defensive linemen voted on the award. Oregon State senior defensive tackle Stephen Paea won the defensive version of the award, voted on by Smith and the rest of the Pac-10 offensive linemen.

Smith and Paea will be presented their awards at a Seattle luncheon next month.

Football: Jurrell Casey named USC's MVP

December, 12, 2010
12/12/10
9:29
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Junior defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was named USC's Most Valuable Player at the team's annual banquet Sunday at the Galen Center.

Casey, a two-year starter for the Trojans who also earned All-Pac-10 First Team honors this season, led the team in sacks and tackles for a loss. He also won the defensive version of the Lineman of the Year award for the second consecutive season. The offensive linemen winner was junior Tyron Smith.

Both Smith and Casey are currently in the process of deciding whether or not to return to USC for their senior seasons or enter early into the 2011 NFL Draft.

Other Sunday winners included senior fullback Stanley Havili as Most Inspirational Player, linebacker Chris Galippo as Special Teams Player of the Year and freshmen D.J. Morgan and George Uko as Service Team Players of the Year.

The rest of the list of award-winners, as announced at the banquet:

Player of the Game versus UCLA: running back Allen Bradford

Jack Oakie “Rise and Shine” Award (year’s longest run): Bradford
Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club Academic Award (overall academic achievement): linebacker Augusto Alonso

Bob Chandler Award (underclassman with outstanding athletic ability, academic achievement and character): wide receiver Robert Woods

John McKay Award (underclassman with the most competitive spirit): Woods
Joe Collins Walk-on Award: safety Tony Burnett

Courage Award: defensive tackle Christian Tupou

Co-Lifters Award: Tupou, Havili

Thursday practice report: Breakdown

December, 2, 2010
12/02/10
8:02
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice:
  • Wednesday, quarterback Matt Barkley said his injured left ankle would be feeling three times better in time for the UCLA game Saturday. Thursday, he said it had improved as he'd expected and would be feeling "twice as [good]" for UCLA. That's a lot of linear growth for the 20-year-old sophomore, but his Coach -- Lane Kiffin -- shared a similar viewpoint on it after Thursday's practice, although it wasn't quite as mathematical. "I thought he looked obviously by far the best he’s looked since the injury," Kiffin said. "He did a lot of stuff today. I would anticipate him playing. It’ll be a decision as we get closer, but the way he looked today, and we’ll see how sore he is tomorrow.” When asked what specifically had improved, Barkley said he could tell the difference from Wednesday "in planting it and moving on it.
  • Barkley has been sporting a fairly prominent brace on the ankle during practices this week, the same brace former Trojans like Troy Polamalu and Matt Leinart wore when dealing with high-ankle sprains during their USC careers. Barkley said he plans to wear it during the game and dismissed the prospects of it causing a lack of mobility, saying that he practiced running out on bootlegs during the warm-up portion of practice to test it out a bit.
  • Injury report: Cornerback Torin Harris (shoulder) and safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder) did not practice. Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, right tackle Tyron Smith (knee) and Barkley (ankle) participated on a limited basis. Cornerback Brian Baucham (shoulder/neck) was also listed as a non-participant by Kiffin but actually did participate quite a bit. He had not practiced earlier this week; if he is healthy enough to suit up Saturday, USC would not have to use a walk-on (Daniel Harper) as its nickel back, which the coaching staff had planned on doing. Starting corner Shareece Wright also ppeared to hurt his left ankle or toes near the end of practice during team drills; his status unclear.
  • The running game has struggled the past two weeks for the Trojans, with Marc Tyler starting both games but not able to finish either of them. Kiffin has been noncommittal when asked to name a starting running back this week, and he presented a similar approach when asked to assess the collective performance of the backs in practice this week. “It’s kind of always hard to tell, because it’s a practice and you aren’t bringing guys to the ground," he said. "Obviously it would be very good for us to get that back. We’ve missed that the last two weeks, since the Arizona game, and our offense doesn’t do very much when our run game doesn’t go, because it kind of sets up everything else. I’m sure that will be a major part of the storyline of the game.”
  • Final notes: The senior sendoff that has typically concluded USC's final open practice of the season has been pushed back to Friday, when the team will hold a brief afternoon walk-through before departing for their downtown hotel for the night. In past years, the proceedings had the underclassmen connect hands and create a tunnel from which the seniors could exit the practice field for the final time. ...Joked Kiffin when asked if he was worried that his job could be on the line with a loss on Saturday: "I guess I’m safe for 48 more hours. Maybe not if we only score one more touchdown."

***

Kiffin spoke to the media after Thursday's practice and addressed the possibility of getting Ronald Johnson an early catch to bring his confidence back up, whether seniors will receive more playing time in the final game of their college careers and other topics.

See what he had to say for the final time after a 2010 practice:



***

Redshirt junior middle linebacker Chris Galippo had quite a few interesting things to say about the USC-UCLA rivalry on Thursday, agreeing with the players' sentiment that this game is for them -- whereas the Notre Dame game was for the fans and alumni, as Kiffin first asserted.

See all of what Galippo had to say in advance of the game Saturday, including some thoughts on the parting seniors who want to leave with a victory over the Bruins:

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
11:25
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
  • Matt Barkley took another step forward in his recovery from the high-ankle sprain he suffered 11 days ago against Oregon State. Mitch Mustain continued to take the majority of the quarterback reps in team drills as Barkley sat out for that period, but the sophomore signal-caller made good throws earlier in practice. "Hopefully it stays at this rate every day, and three days from now it'll be three times better," Barkley said afterward. "I felt a lot better than yesterday and was able to do a lot more movements. Added Coach Lane Kiffin: "He continues to look better every day. He’s throwing the ball fine and his movement is coming around. I would anticipate him playing.”
  • Injury report: defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder) and cornerbacks Brian Baucham (neck/shoulder) and Torin Harris (shoulder) did not practice. Right tackle Tyron Smith (knee), fullback Stanley Havili and Barkley (ankle) were limited. Smith returned to the practice field after missing all of last week's practices and the Notre Dame game, but Butch Lewis continued to take the majority of first-team snaps.
  • Kiffin was asked quite a bit about UCLA and the nature of the rivalry between the two schools. In his opening statement, he made a great point in saying that "records mean nothing in [the game,] as we have seen before." He also remarked he was indeed surprised by UCLA's lack of success this season: "I would have thought that they would have with the coaching staff and their ability to recruit," he said. "But I think this sport, you just can’t plan everything out. When I look at their roster, they have a lot of young guys and a really bright future.”

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Tuesday practice report: Breakdown

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
10:10
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Notes, quotes and video from Tuesday's practice:
  • Quarterback Matt Barkley appears a whole lot more likely to play this week than last week, with the sophomore taking a good portion of snaps in scout-team play Tuesday and walking around without any real complications. Said USC Coach Lane Kiffin of Barkley's status, four days before the final game of the season: "I hope he’s going to play and I think he’s going to play, but I don’t know for sure he’ll play.” Backup Mitch Mustain, who started the Notre Dame game, is once again preparing as if he will start against UCLA. We'll have more on Barkley, including a video interview with the signal-caller, further down in this post:
  • Injury report: safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder), right tackle Tyron Smith (knee) and cornerbacks Brian Baucham (neck) and Torin Harris (shoulder) did not practice. Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, safety Jawanza Starling (hamstring) and Barkley (ankle) were limited. McDonald, who hurt his shoulder on the first series of Saturday's game against Notre Dame, said there was no chance he'll play against UCLA, although Kiffin didn't rule it out. Smith, who missed the Notre Dame game because of a knee injury, said he would begin practicing Wednesday and planned to play against the Bruins. Both Baucham and Harris look like longshots to play at this point.
  • With those two likely out and McDonald out as well, it's fair to say that the secondary is in a shambles. Asked Tuesday if there were enough pieces back there to form a serviceable unit, Kiffin flatly said: "No. It’s just the way it is. If you lose that many like we have, and now our most consistent guy, T.J., being out as of now, and already the injuries that we have suffered there, there just aren’t many people to go to. It is what it is and we need whoever is in there to play well.” Behind the starting cornerbacks, Shareece Wright and Nickell Robey, USC will likely have only walk-ons Saturday, with junior Daniel Harper the best of those options. If Jawanza Starling returns -- he said Tuesday he was 100 percent -- and starts at one safety spot alongside Marshall Jones, walk-on Tony Burnett could also feasibly play some corner when extra defensive backs are needed. We'll have more on Burnett and his story on Wednesday.

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2010 USC: The Season

November, 30, 2010
11/30/10
8:00
AM PT
This season has been a series of new experiences for this USC football team.

No matter what happens Saturday, the Trojans will finish their worst season in nine years. They already lost to one rival, Notre Dame, for the first time since 2001. A loss to their crosstown rival would make 2010 seem like a return to the Paul Hackett years, a bog of mediocrity.


People expected the program to suffer under NCAA sanctions -- that’s kind of the point -- but a 7-6 season, with three straight losses at the end, would be worse than most fans had feared.

Just a couple of weeks ago, after a win at No. 18 Arizona, things appeared to be building toward a strong finish that would carry over to 2011.

“I was 100 percent confident that we were going to be 10-3 at the end of the season and we’d hit the road and sign a great recruiting class,” coach Lane Kiffin said.

Then the Trojans went to one of their least-favorite places, Oregon State, and got snowballed in a 29-point loss. The following week, they lost an emotionally wrenching game to the Fighting Irish. Now, this coaching staff is worried that those losses will carry over and that a sloppy finish to this season could spill into the players’ psyches going into next year.

The only way to stop that talk is to beat UCLA. That seemed a lot more likely two weeks ago.

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Notes from Sunday's conference call

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
10:28
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Some items of note from coach Lane Kiffin's Sunday conference call, which looked back at Saturday's loss to Notre Dame and ahead to next week's season finale at UCLA:
  • Ronald Johnson's final-drive drop on the wide-open Coliseum field was still a hot topic of conversation Sunday, and Kiffin said Johnson was still taking the play pretty hard, even almost 24 hours after the fact. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player take a game or a play harder than Ronald did,” Kiffin said. “He was obviously a wreck after the game. So emotional. He felt he had let so many people down." Kiffin also said he felt partly responsible for the way Johnson reacted to the play because of how much emphasis he placed in the week leading up to the game on playing for the Trojan faithful and coaching staff.
  • Injury updates: Kiffin said Matt Barkley (high-ankle sprain) looked a lot better Sunday and said "he's anticipating himself playing" against UCLA. Barkley suited up for the Notre Dame game and came out for the coin toss but never got on the field during the game. Nothing else is known about safety T.J. McDonald's injury, believed to be a separated shoulder, but walk-on Tony Burnett is listed as a co-starter with McDonald at free safety for the UCLA game. Right tackle Tyron Smith also shares his spot with Butch Lewis after missing Saturday's game becaue of a knee injury. Kiffin had no update on cornerback Brian Baucham's status either; Baucham played most of the game Saturday as the nickel corner but left the Coliseum sporting a neck brace.
  • Kiffin called the performance "well below our standard" and "very heartbreaking" for the players. He also failed to compliment Notre Dame much -- if at all -- on Sunday, seemingly putting much of the blame for the loss on his staff for an under-prepared team. "I just think that none of them ever imagined that we were going to lose this game," Kiffin said.
  • Kiffin had a solid quip when talking about his team's failure -- once again -- to stop the opposition in the clutch, as the Irish put together a game-winning 77-yard drive in Saturday's final minutes. USC couldn't stop Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood or Robert Hughes on that drive, and freshman quarterback Tommy Rees also came up with two clutch completions. Said an obviously peeved Kiffin: "We've probably set a record for the worst two-minute defense, not just this year but in the history of college football."

Postgame thoughts: Notre Dame

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
9:25
AM PT
Notes, quotes and video from USC's 20-16 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night at the Coliseum:
  • One Ronald Johnson catch and the Trojans are 8-4, Notre Dame is 6-6 and we're talking about USC rebounding from a tough loss to Oregon State to tough one out against a big rival. But Johnson didn't catch the ball in the open from Mitch Mustain -- then Mustain forced a second-down throw from the Notre Dame 23-yard line with 36 seconds left and was intercepted by Irish safety Harrison Smith. Now Notre Dame is 7-5, USC is 7-5 -- worse than last year -- and the Trojans have another losing streak on the books.
  • A couple of solid-insight quotes, one from each side: USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo, who had six tackles, an interception and a fumble forced in one of his best games for USC, on the loss: "As a competitor, you want to win every game. We all want to win every game. It is tough to fight that hard and come out on the losing end, but sometimes you learn more when you lose than when you win." And Smith, a senior leader for Notre Dame who has played linebacker and safety in his career, about his game-sealing pick: "When I saw it I knew I was in good position. I just thought to myself: 'I've got to come down with this and the game is over.'"
  • The Trojans' offense has failed them twice in a row now, a week ago putting up only seven points at Oregon State and this week putting up 16. You could argue, too, that none of the 16 points were of the offense's doing -- all came directly off turnovers produced by the defense. USC had a plus-three turnover differential on Saturday, a margin that rarely leads to a loss. Said Coach Lane Kiffin postgame: "If you had told me before we would be [plus-three] on turnovers, I would have expected a different result."
  • Making his starting debut for USC, Mustain (20-of-37, 177 yards, no touchdowns) wasn't great. But it wasn't like he was consistently failing at executing what he was asked to do; it was more like USC didn't try to do much because of his presence in the game and the failure of the run game. Said Kiffin: "We didn't ask him to do much today, but we didn't support him with the running game at all."

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