After two games, the Trojans are still searching for their identity.
The results of the first two weeks have been inconclusive. The offense looked explosive against Hawai’i, then followed up with a dud against Virginia. Conversely, the Trojan defense was full of holes in week one, then held the Cavaliers to 14 points the following game.
For USC coach Lane Kiffin and his first-year coaching staff, the search for identity is a work in progress.
“We’ll continually be in the process of figuring out our team and who we are,” Kiffin said. “We’ve seen two drastically different games from different sides of the ball, so the challenge this week is to put it all together and see if we can play a complete game.”
Redshirt junior tailback Marc Tyler is a good example of that search for consistency. After breaking out for 154 yards in his first start, Tyler (and the rest of the USC offense) relapsed, finishing with 68 yards against Virginia.
Tyler sees “a team that hasn’t been consistent on both sides of the ball.
“But we know we can be,” he said.
Tyler places some of the inconsistency on inexperienced players new roles. Even though he is in his fourth year at USC, he includes himself in that category.
“I don’t know if I’m nervous; it’s just not a lot of game experience,” Tyler said.
However, Tyler said he is getting comfortable in the starting role.
“I feel good now and I’m ready to have a big game,” he said.
Still, a solid team identity continues to elude the Trojans.
“We have no idea,” Kiffin said. “It takes a while to develop identities. Things don’t change over night … It’s a process.”
Kiffin hopes the Trojans will eventually develop into a more forceful team on the gridiron.
“We’re not disciplined right now,” Kiffin said. “I think we’re tough but I don’t think we’re disciplined at all.”
USC has been penalized 24 times for 240 yards, which is the highest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Defensive fatigue has been a concern for the Trojans in their first two games, Kiffin said. Since the Trojans were not able to pull away in either contest, the defense started to wear down in the fourth quarter.
“We don’t rotate very much,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to try to do a little more of that. We’ve been trying to develop our depth.”
As part of the NCAA sanctions, players were allowed to transfer without having to pay the usual price of sitting out a year.
The players that took the opportunity and transferred could have been seeing significant playing time right now. Defensive end Malik Jackson (Tennessee) and fullback D.J. Shoemate (UConn) could have been of great use in backup roles had they stayed with USC.
“It’s hurt us not being able to rotate people,” Kiffin said. “We go to try to rest a defensive end and our defensive end is starting at Tennessee. We go to rest a fullback and he’s playing at UConn.”
Kiffin said it would be good practice for the Trojans as they become accustomed to playing in a sanctioned program. After all, the Trojans are allowed to have 75 scholarship players under the NCAA ruling but will bring only 53 scholarship players on the road to Minnesota.
Defensive linemen sophomore Nick Perry and junior Armond Armstead were limited in practice for the second day in a row. Kiffin moved up redshirt freshman defensive end James Boyd from the service squad to try to strengthen the team’s depleted line.
“We’ve got to find some depth for some guys to rotate, number one, and then, if guys get hurt, to really play and have a role for us,” Kiffin said.