Even though USC is coming off last-second back-to-back losses, the Trojans are just trying to get past California this weekend and into the bye week without any more injuries.
After playing a physical Cardinal defense and with another physical defense in Cal coming up, the Trojans will have had their depth tested.
Numerous key players were limited or sat out of practice Tuesday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton, freshman tailback Dillon Baxter, senior linebacker Malcolm Smith and redshirt junior linebacker Shane Horton did not practice because of injuries.
“I looked out at seven-on-seven and in our second team’s defensive seven you might only know the names of two of them,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “It is what it is. We got to find a way to get guys healthy.”
Kiffin said he hopes Baxter and Smith can both play Saturday, but Baxter isn’t so sure, as he spent Tuesday walking on crutches with a blue cast around his foot. Baxter, who scored his first touchdown early in the game last weekend, hyper-extended the toes on his left foot after running a Wildcat play in the fourth quarter.
Baxter said doctors initially didn’t know the extent of his injury; his foot was swollen after the game, and he said he planned to get it checked out after practice.
“I’m trying to get back this week. We’ll see. Hopefully I can,” Baxter said. “But this will be the only week I’ll be out. Bye weeks are so good, especially right now.”
Baxter, who said last week he wasn’t giving 100 percent effort earlier in the season, seemed to be a bigger factor in the offensive gameplan last week than in any of the Trojans’ first five games.
“I started getting more touches; we started working the Wildcat more,” Baxter said. “I finally got my first touchdown, and I was so jacked, and to be out the next game sucks.”
The injuries have also affected the defensive side of the ball, where multiple starters were limited. Kiffin said this has prevented the Trojans from trying to move people around and causing a spark.
“We’ve thought about it, but as you saw with the injury report, there’s a number of guys not here or limited, so we’re just trying to plug guys in,” he said.
Not only are the Trojans coming off back-to-back losses for the first time since 2001, they are also coming off back-to-back losses on the last play for the first time in history.
“We were talking today and USC’s played football over 100 years and there’s been four games in the last 100 years where USC’s lost on the last play of the game,” Kiffin said. “Four in 100 years and now we’ve done it twice in seven days. It’s a record we didn’t want to break or be a part of. It’s a lot of adversity for our guys to go through.”
Despite that, sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said he was proud of the way the team came out in practice Tuesday.
“Well, I was really happy with the energy the guys brought out here,” Barkley said. “It’s really important we carry this through the week. Obviously the losses are really disappointing — we didn’t expect this. But it will show the character of our team and whether we can bounce back after these losses, and it’ll show who we are.”
With the poor play on defense, the Trojans are relying more on offense to win. Barkley said he doesn’t feel any added pressure from this and that Saturday was the most relaxed he has felt on the field during his time here.
“I had a great week of preparation in the classroom so when I got out on the field everything was just slow and it was real easy. I was seeing everything perfectly,” Barkley said. “Personally, I felt really comfortable out there.”
Barkley has played well since Kiffin singled him out in a team meeting after the Washington State game a few weeks ago, when Barkley threw two interceptions. The sophomore quarterback took it as an opportunity to grow.
“Regardless of what he was going to say, I knew something was coming or something needed to change because I knew with that play, once we got into a tougher schedule, it wasn’t going to fly,” Barkley said. “I took it personally and as a challenge to grow and become a better quarterback. I like the way he’s pushing me so far and I think I’ve grown better because of that.”