It was all about the Barkley-Woods tandem Wednesday.
Despite several concerns surrounding a young Trojan team, most of the talk following USC’s mid-morning practice centered on junior quarterback Matt Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods. In the season opener against Minnesota, Barkley and Woods connected for 17 receptions, 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 19-17 win.
“They prepare for things so well and focus on the game plan,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “Those guys are really fun to coach.”
The success of both has inspired the younger players, Kiffin said.
“They’re two of our best guys,” Kiffin said. “The best thing about that is you want young players and all of your players to see guys succeed and play well. Guys like [cornerback] Nickell Robey prepare well every single day and it shows up on gameday.”
With Utah expected to focus on stopping Woods on Saturday, Barkley noted USC’s offense also possesses other dangerous targets.
“If they happen to double team [Woods], that just leaves another guy open,” Barkley said. “We have a lot of weapons.”
It was announced earlier this week that senior tailback Marc Tyler had been reinstated following a one-game suspension and will be on the field Saturday against the Utes.
“We will see how the rest of the week goes,” Kiffin said. “He’s practiced really hard. We will mix him in there some and see what happens during the game.”
Tyler’s reinstatement means the Trojans will have a number of tailbacks in the mix against the Utes. Kiffin, however, feels Tyler’s size will benefit the Trojans.
“The rest of our ‘backs are under 200 pounds,” Kiffin said. “Those short yard situations that we came up short on [last week], a big ‘back has a tendency to make those.”
Freshman tailback D.J. Morgan was named the starter following his week one performance, but with Tyler’s return, it remains possible the depth chart could change again.
“I’ve been going with the ones, so I’m mentally preparing to be the starter,” Morgan said. “If not, I’m still ready to go in the game. I just have to capitalize when my number is called, when I get the ball and every time when I’m on the field blocking or running.”
Barkley, who was forced to throw the ball 45 times against Minnesota, is pleased with Tyler’s return.
“It’s good to have him back,” Tyler said. “He’s a great player for us. [Tyler] is a back you could tell was missing last week. He’s come a long way since that incident happened. He will be able to help us out a lot on Saturday.”
Though Utah heads west to face the Trojans, the Coliseum hasn’t provided them with a significant home field advantage as of late. Three of USC’s five losses last season were at home, and against Minnesota on Saturday, USC played in front of a crowd of under 70,000.
“I don’t think it has to do with the Coliseum or the fans. It had to with us playing real well,” Kiffin said. “If you want the playing rocking and a lot of energy — play well, win games and score touchdowns.”
Barkley said he hopes the home crowd Saturday will be vivacious.
“Hopefully, a little more crowd noise when they are on offense,” Barkley said. “Hopefully, more seats are filled.”
Last week, rumors of further expansion of the Pac-12 conference circulated around college football, even more so on Wednesday as Texas A&M announced it would leave the Big XII for the SEC.
“We just got used to this one,” Kiffin said. “Whatever happens, we’ll figure it out. We don’t spend very much time on it at all. It’s out of our control.”
Though much hype surrrounds the inaugural Pac-12 conference game, the Trojans are looking at Saturday’s match-up like another game.
“I think there will be a lot of energy around it,” Kiffin said “I’m sure it’s a huge game for them coming down to the Coliseum regardless [of it] being the conference opener. For us, first place in the division is on the line. We want to improve.”
Despite all the excitement surrounding this game, Barkley sees Utah like any other opponent.
“I don’t see the significance other than another regular season game that we have to win in our conference,” Barkley said. “I guess you could say it is special because we are treating every game like a bowl game. As compared to last week, no, we’re approaching it with the same mentality.”