After getting picked apart for 588 yards by Hawaii’’s run-and-shoot offense, the Trojan defense is looking forward to facing a more traditional-style offense against Virginia on Saturday.
The Cavaliers employ a pro-style offense led by bruising running back Keith Payne. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound senior will provide a much different look for a Trojan defense that often found itself chasing down quicker, smaller opponents in Honolulu.
“I think you’re going to see a much different game,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I will be shocked if we don’t play extremely well on Saturday on defense.”
Simulating Payne’s speed and size in practice is another issue however. Redshirt freshman fullback Hunter Simmons, who is 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, played the role of Payne at practice Wednesday.
“He wasn’t quite as fast, the defense wasn’t quite as impressed by him, but Hunter tried,” Kiffin said.
The Trojan defense, which was chasing receivers all over the field last week, considers this weekend an opportunity to redeem itself. All the better that the chance will come against a physical, powerful team.
“Now that’s exciting,” said sophomore linebacker Devon Kennard. “I’m excited for this game, [to] get to some football, to more [of] what we’ve been doing all spring and all fall.”
Payne, along with Virginia running back Perry Jones, will not only provide a greater physical challenge but will also test the Trojans’ tackling ability. USC did not tackle well against Hawai’i and continues to prohibit tackling in practice in hopes of preventing injuries.
Senior linebacker Malcolm Smith expects that the familiarity with Viriginia’s traditional offense will help the defense stop Payne.
“He’s a big, tough runner,” Smith said. “We’ve just gotta make sure we tackle this week and just play physical. We get an opportunity to do a lot of stuff we’ve worked on throughout the spring and fall camp.”
And after giving up 36 points in its debut, the Trojan defense feels it has something to prove.
“We definitely have a chip on our shoulders,” Kennard said. “There were points when we played really good and points where we need to improve.”
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Nick Perry remained limited at practice Wednesday because of a high ankle sprain and he is still questionable for Saturday’s game. Perry missed the season opener because of the injury.
Kiffin described Perry, a 2009 Freshman All-American, as a potential top-15 NFL pick based on his physical attributes. At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Perry has a 34-inch vertical leap and is as fast as most of USC’s defensive backs in short spurts.
“There’s probably only 10, 15 people like him in the world,” Kiffin said.
USC’s defensive line managed three sacks against the Warriors, but did not get to Hawai’i quarterback Bryant Moniz often enough. Perry gives the Trojans another weapon.
“He appears to be better off than he was last week so I hope he plays,” Kiffin said.
Wednesday was sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley’s 20th birthday. In the Pete Carroll years, that might have been cause for some kind of celebration.
Not under Kiffin.
“We need to win some games first,” Kiffin said. “We’ll worry about birthdays later.”
Kiffin was then asked how many wins it would take for him to start acknowledging birthdays.
“A lot more than one,” he replied.