Heading into its fifth practice of the spring, it appears as if the USC offense is starting to catch up to the defense.
After finishing with a disappointing six turnovers during Tuesday’s workout, the Trojans totaled just two turnovers over Thursday’s two-and-a-half-hour-long practice.
“I thought the offense responded well today after getting beat up in our last practice,” said USC coach Lane Kiffin. “We had six turnovers the other day so I was really pleased with how the offense came out. They really came out physical and got out on the defense for most of the day.”
Despite several injuries on the offensive line, the unit looked more than physical, holding its own against a deeper, healthier defensive line featuring plenty of potential preseason All-Americans.
In turn, the running game was able to benefit from its strong play, as senior Allen Bradford and junior Marc Tyler took off on several runs of at least 10 yards where they continued to total yardage even after first contact.
Not only was the offense more physical, but also more precise in numerous aspects of the game because of similar schemes that Kiffin shares with former head coach Pete Carroll.
“We’ve gone back to what the terminology used to be years ago,” Kiffin said. “So there’s a little bit of recall for some of the guys.”
Coincidently, one of those players who has been able to pick up the offense quickly has been sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who started as a true freshman last season.
“[Barkley], who was around the program before he got here, has some recall as well,” Kiffin said.
Barkley, in addition to senior Mitch Mustain, looked far more comfortable with the playbook and was certainly in sync with the receivers, even on some of the deeper routes. Barkley, in particular, connected with wideouts Brice Butler and Robbie Boyer on deep passes nearly fifty yards long.
“I think today was evident that I’m more comfortable out there just because I have the experience,” said Barkley, who finished the afternoon with zero interceptions. “The system is the same system. I just feel more comfortable in myself, growing from last year and progressing from what I was”
But it wasn’t all fun and games for Barkley and the rest of the offense on Thursday, as it faced constant pressure from a stifling defensive line. On multiple occasions, either Barkley or Mustain was faced with little time to throw and, as a result, was forced to throw the ball away or dump the ball off to a running back.
“They’ve shown they can already be a good Pac-10 defensive line, said defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron. “I think that Armond Armstead has really good talent. I like Jurrell Casey’s movement. I like Nick [Perry] a lot. I think Christian Tupou is awfully tough too.”
Pressuring quarterbacks will be a major focus for the defense this season, as Orgeron’s national championship defenses with USC in 2003 and 2004 were well-known for their high sack totals. And right now, the front four appears ahead of schedule
“They’re a lot better than when I originally first started working with them in the agility drills,” added Orgeron. “I think they’ve had an excellent spring so far. I think we can be a little better than what I thought first.”