The two mystery positions that USC coach Lane Kiffin said he would re-evaluate this week were revealed Tuesday. Kiffin said Tuesday that the starting jobs of sophomore strong safety Jawanza Starling and senior left guard Butch Lewis are in jeopardy.
Kiffin is giving redshirt junior Marshall Jones a shot at the strong safety position that Starling has held throughout the season. Jones took almost all of the reps with the first team on Tuesday in the place of sophomore free safety T.J. McDonald, who was nursing a slight hamstring injury. However, Jones subbed in for both safeties against Oregon on Saturday and the coaches said they think he did well enough to give him a chance to earn Starling’s spot.
“We got our grades on Monday and I did pretty decent,” Jones said. “I made a couple mistakes but coach said I had a couple of good tackles, so if I continue to do that, I’m going see a lot more playing time.”
As for the left guard position, Kiffin said he is not pleased with Lewis’ performance. Redshirt junior Michael Reardon is poised to take over for Lewis a little more than a month after Kiffin tried Reardon out in the same position.
“We’re going to give Mike Reardon a shot there at practice, see how he plays at left guard because the production we’re getting there is completely unacceptable,” Kiffin said.
Speaking of the offensive line, Kiffin called many offensive players out during his weekly conference call Sunday.
“[The running game] has been something that has been very overrated this season,” he said, adding that the Trojans have only had three 100-yard rushers this year and that four of their opponents — Virginia, Minnesota, Washington State and Washington — are ranked less than 100 in rush defense in the nation.
Kiffin shifted this blame to the offensive line, which hasn’t played up to his standards.
“As I told our team, we played as bad up front as I’ve seen in my seven years of being here, and we’ve got to go back to practice this week and get a lot better to prove that we are a good running team because right now we are not,” Kiffin said.
While USC’s opponents had poor rush defenses, Kiffin said he thinks that the offensive line is playing much more inconsistently than it did earlier in the year.
“You look back to [the Oregon] game and pull some film from earlier in the year and they don’t look the same,” Kiffin said at practice on Tuesday. “Our effort [is] taking the easy way out instead of getting them on the ground. Our run game is built on cutting people and we go into the game like that and they rarely did it at all.”
Senior center Kristofer O’Dowd said the offensive line is getting back to basics and trying to correct the little things, such as leverage, helmet placement and footwork, in order to progress.
“It came down to small things like technique,” O’Dowd said. “The problem is that it’s come down to that every week, so we’re not really necessarily making progress. We’re going back to things we saw in the beginning of the year. So we have to get these little things that were supposed to be gone a month and a half ago, get those straightened out these last five games.”
O’Dowd said he thought Kiffin’s comments were fair and are a chance for the line to prove itself.
“That’s the head coach and I’m sure that’s what he saw,” O’Dowd said. “I’m all behind him. It’s just an opportunity to step up and get better, which we need to do.”