Avoiding injury bug is the key for USC season


USC coach Lane Kiffin announced Sunday that media members would no longer be allowed to report practice injuries of any sort, saying it put USC at a competitive disadvantage.

So the general public will no longer know which Trojans sat out practice, which ones appeared to be hurt or which ones spent their day on the trainer’s table getting back massages.

It’s debatable whether or not this decision will actually help USC. But there’s no question that it comes because of the extreme impact that injuries could have on the Trojans this year.

Thanks to the scholarship restrictions imposed on the team, they’ll run out onto the field for every game with 10 fewer scholarship players than their opponents.

That might not sound like a big deal, since the Trojans still have 75 talented players.

But if the injury bug bites the team, it could be a serious roadblock on the way to the BCS national championship — something Kiffin won’t want any opponents to know about until they’re standing opposite the Cardinal and Gold on game day.

Though Kiffin has taken great pains to limit live-tackling during practices because of reduced numbers, key USC players have still suffered injuries both in practice and games.

Senior quarterback Matt Barkley has suffered two injuries that caused him to miss two games in his college career — one at Washington in 2009 and another against Notre Dame in 2010. Both resulted in USC defeats.

Last season against Stanford, linebacker and leading tackler Dion Bailey was forced out of the game after sustaining a concussion with USC up 56-48 in the third overtime.

Three plays later, quarterback Andrew Luck lofted a touchdown pass right over linebacker Tre Madden — Bailey’s replacement — to tie the game and send it into triple overtime.

USC is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll, so naturally, there are plenty of reasons to expect a successful 2012 campaign from the Cardinal and Gold.

The squad’s defense improved in its second year under assistant head coach and defensive guru Monte Kiffin, allowing 23.6 points per game after giving up 26.7 points per game in 2010, and could take another step up in its third year in Kiffin’s intricate Tampa 2 system.

And of course, much has been said about the return of Barkley and top receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, a trio that seems poised to break all of Troy’s passing and receiving records.

Unfortunately, there are some shallow areas with depth issues that could be exposed over the course of the season.

In 2010, USC’s rushing defense struggled without a marquee defender in the center of the defensive line, giving up an average of 4.4 yards per rush.

That number improved to 3.6 yards per rush in 2011 with the return of two-year senior starter Christian Tupou.

But with Tupou and first round draft pick Nick Perry gone from the defensive line, the Trojans have few upperclassmen defensive linemen on scholarship. Redshirt sophomore George Uko and redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods, the tabbed starters, are taking on increased roles this year.

If either of them goes down, concerns about USC’s rush defense could resurface.

And, even though the Trojan offensive line should function like a well-oiled machine with the return of four starters, Arizona State proved last season that a blitz-heavy scheme can force the unit into making mistakes — which disrupts Barkley and the entire offense.

Barkley’s 2011 Heisman campaign was essentially derailed after turning the ball over three times in a 43-22 loss to the Sun Devils, who collected two sacks and two interceptions against Barkley amid windy conditions at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

The loss of All-American left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL Draft won’t help hold back any of that defensive pressure.

In their first season back from bowl exile, the Trojans have an immense amount of pressure on them to succeed in what will serve as both Kiffin’s defining third season as head coach and the end to Barkley’s storied USC career.

Fair or not, with all the lofty preseason expectations heaped on the squad, success will be defined by earning a berth in the BCS championship game, which means at least one win over the Ducks.

Bumps and bruises are bound to accumulate over the season. How the Trojans respond to those setbacks will dictate how they perform.

Though the media won’t be allowed to report on injuries, Kiffin of course won’t be able to ignore their effects when his team steps onto the field.

“Chin Music” runs every other Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Will at wlaws@usc.edu.