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Photo by Jeff Lewis
Star freshman wide receiver Robert Woods practiced at cornerback this week.
By Michael Brown,
Sentinel Sports Writer
Following back-to-back last-second field goal losses due to its defenses’ inability to get a stop, USC coach Lane Kiffin called on one of his offensive stars during practice this week to possibly provide some relief.
Looking more like desperation rather than experimentation, Kiffin decided to let freshman receiver Robert Woods play at cornerback during Tuesday’s practice. Woods, who prepped at Gardena Serra High School, played corner in high school and he gained All-American honors at that position.
Ranked 100th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense, the Trojans’ beleaguered unit is allowing 26 points per game and is beset by injuries, forcing Kiffin to look at unlikely sources to stem the tide.
Kiffin said he is concerned about the defense’s overall depth.
“Yeah, definitely. I looked out in seven-on-seven at our second-team back seven, and you guys might only know the name of two of them,” he said. “It is what it is, so we have to get guys healthy and find a way.”
Lane’s measured tone was echoed by his father and defensive coordinator, Monte, who has taken heavy criticism this week for the team’s poor tackling and failure to close out games.
Monte however chose a rosier outlook and talked about urging on his players.
“You don’t sit and sulk around about what you are ranked,” Monte said after Tuesday’s practice. “If you don’t stay positive, why should your kids? You keep playing and try to get better.”
Indeed, last week’s loss at Stanford was a repeat performance from the prior Saturday’s home loss to Washington. Stanford marched down the field at will and scored the game-winning field goal as time expired.
USC may take the field this Saturday at the Coliseum with a hobbled defense against a California squad that blew out UCLA 35-7 last week.
Linebackers Malcolm Smith and Shane Horton; cornerback Shareece Wright; defensive ends Wes Horton and Nick Perry all either missed time during practice this week or are nursing injuries.
The Golden Bears may look to exploit USC’s struggling secondary and linebackers with its wideouts. Marvin Jones and Keenan Allen are one of the best duos in the Pac-10, and they’re capable of stretching the field, provided that quarterback Kevin Riley plays consistently.
California, which has featured recent standout tailbacks such as last year’s first round pick Jahvid Best, and J.J Arrington and Marshawn Lynch, has another one in the fold.
Running back Shane Vereen averages 115 yards per game and has eight touchdowns this season. Last week, he punished a good UCLA defense for 151 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. California averages more than 200 yards on the ground, which could spell trouble for USC’s defensive front.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Woods both had great performances at Stanford last Saturday. The Trojans offense will face a Golden Bears defense led by linebacker Mike Mohamed.
Mohamed, who anchors the California defense, missed one game this season at Nevada, and the Golden Bears were thumped, 52-31. However, in the four games Mohamed has played, he’s recorded 28 tackles and helped California to become the 17th ranked defense in the FBS.
USC is 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-10. California is 3-2 and 1-1.