USC true freshman Robert Woods (Serra High School) finished the game with three receptions for 64 yards, which led all USC receivers for the game.
USC’s Malcolm Smith runs down a ball carrier in the Trojans victory over Virginia.
Photos by Jeff Lewis
Despite beating Virginia, USC’s offense struggles after defense played poorly the week prior. Road game at Minnesota offers chance to improve before Pac-10 play begins.
By Michael Brown
Sentinel Sports Writer
After two lackluster wins to begin the 2010 college football season, the USC Trojans will attempt to put together a complete performance when it heads to Minnesota to play the Gophers this Saturday before beginning Pac-10 competition the following week.
In a press conference after the Trojans inched past Virginia, 17-14, USC head coach Lane Kiffin, mum and visibly disappointed with his team’s performance, said his theme for the week will be pushing for improvement and consistency on both sides of the ball. Despite the Trojans being 2-0, Kiffin added it was the “most disappointed undefeated locker room I’ve ever been in.”
For good reason, Kiffin’s sentiments were validated by the Trojans uneven performance against an overmatched Virginia team playing without its top cornerback. Among the glaring problems plaguing USC were 13 penalties for 140 yards, a paltry 127 yards rushing and an offense that lacked cohesion and failed to put drives together.
USC’s defense improved from the prior week after being torched in Hawaii, holding Virginia to seven points for much of the game before allowing a late touchdown. Early on, the return of defensive end Nick Perry from injury paid dividends as he got in on two quarterback hurries. Armond Armstead’s return as a starter on the defensive line also helped.
Minnesota’s offense is likely to not provide USC with an accurate measuring stick to grade its performance. Much like Hawaii and Virginia, the Trojans can give a so-so performance and still gain a victory.
“Getting better between weeks two and three is what we need to do,” Kiffin said. “I’m disappointed so far. We’re not getting it done.”
Virginia game recap
With more than 80,000 people in attendance for its home opener, USC’s faithful probably expected a repeat of the prior week’s 49 points the team put on the scoreboard in a win at Hawaii, but instead, they watched a grind-it-out effort as the Trojans outlasted the Cavaliers.
During the first quarter, both offenses failed to sustain any prolonged drives. Virginia’s best chance at scoring occurred when its defense sacked quarterback Matt Barkley causing him to fumble on USC’s 31-yard line.
After running back Perry Jones gained 25 yards and was tackled at USC’s six, Virginia looked to capitalize on the turnover. However, quarterback Marc Verica’s pass was intercepted by T.J. McDonald in the end zone, ending the threat.
In the second quarter, USC’s penalty woes effectively killed any chance the offense had in building a rhythm. For instance, Barkley connected with receiver Ronald Johnson for a 50-yard touchdown only to have it nullified due to a holding call. Johnson compounded matters when he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the same play.
Kiffin said that the Trojans won’t emphasize the ongoing penalty problems this week despite leading the nation in the category. The Trojans were penalized 11 times for 100 yards against Hawaii.
The Trojans didn’t get on the scoreboard until Barkley hit freshman receiver Robert Woods (Gardena Serra HS) on back-to-back 11 and 40 yard passes. Then, Barkley tossed a 4-yard pass to receiver Jordan Cameron for a touchdown.
After Virginia answered on its next drive and tied the score, USC began another scoring drive to go-ahead 14-7.
On a pivotal second-and-ten play, Barkley sidestepped pressure and darted for a 20-yard run before he was hit while out of bounds by Cavaliers safety Trey Womack, resulting in a 15-yard personal foul penalty. After a Marc Tyler run and a Johnson 14-yard catch, Barkley fired an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Carswell.
Kicker Joe Houston’s fourth quarter field goal proved to be the difference.
Both touchdowns by Cameron and Carswell were the first of their careers. Barkley, who finished 20 for 35 with 202 yards and two touchdowns, talked about relying on the depth of USC’s receiving core.
“I never lock in on one receiver, we’ve got lots of talent,” Barkley said. “It’s good to have back-ups who can come in and perform. It feels like we almost don’t miss a beat when guys step up and make plays.”
Another recipient of Barkley’s distribution was highly touted freshman tailback Dillon Baxter. Baxter, who was suspended for the Hawaii game, had nine carries for 49 yards and two catches for 8 yards. Barkley said the coaching staff made a concerted effort to get Baxter the ball and lined him up in different spots.
The USC defense seemed to take over the game and impose its will in the second half in a reversal from the previous week in which the offense covered up for porous play.
After Perry left the game and couldn’t continue during the second half due to an injury, demoted defensive tackle DaJohn Harris picked up his performance. Harris finished the game with four tackles and a sack.
Armstead, who regained a starting spot on the defensive line also helped. After allowing nearly 600 yards of offense to Hawaii, the Trojans’ limiting Virginia to 340 was a marked improvement.
“We played the run pretty well and didn’t let things get out of control,” Armstead said. “There were a lot of improvements this week, but we have got much more room to get better.”
Kiffin said, ‘We played a lot more soundly on defense and didn’t give up big plays. We stayed in our lanes and made the routine plays that good clubs make to give themselves a chance to win.”