Strength up front for USC

Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin is in constant motion at football practices. He roams around the field, stopping in at each defensive position group to offer a brief piece of advice. Then, he’s on to the next group of players.

Whatever he said to the defensive line Saturday worked.

Consistent · Redshirt junior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris recorded a sack and five tackles in Saturday’s scrimmage, a week after forcing quarterback Mitch Mustain to fumble and taking it back 50 yards. - Geo Tu | Daily Trojan

The defensive line dominated Saturday’s scrimmage, which marked the halfway point of spring practice. Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley finished with impressive statistics (21 of 30 passing for 291 yards and five touchdowns), but the day belonged to the big guys up front.

“The story of the day was the way the defense came out,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “I thought they dominated up front. We couldn’t get the run game going.”

Last week, the offense had its way early in the scrimmage. On Saturday, the defense turned the tables. Barkley and redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Mustain found themselves backpedaling early and often in the face of relentless pressure from the front four. USC’s defensive line racked up six sacks and nine tackles for a loss in the scrimmage.

“We want to be the most dominant group on the field,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Wes Horton said. “I think we showed that today. We had guys penetrating in the backfield; we had guys getting sacks left and right. Guys are really getting after it.”

A lot of the credit has to go to Monte Kiffin and new defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron. Horton said the new coaches have made an immediate impact.

“We love them all,” Horton said. “Right off the bat they came in and [set] up their philosophy. I feel like everyone’s starting to buy in, everyone’s taking it serious.”

On a day of dominating performances, Lane Kiffin said that sophomore defensive end Nick Perry stood out. Perry recorded four tackles for loss and three sacks on Saturday.

“We didn’t start [him] so to see him do that today was really good and he really responded today to that,” he said.

Lane Kiffin and the other coaches sat Perry because he had not been playing consistently. On one drive, Perry notched sacks on first and third down to force the offense off the field. Later in the scrimmage, the offense drove to the two-yard line before a sack pushed them back outside the 10.

For much of the scrimmage, an offensive line depleted by injuries was unable to keep the defense out of the backfield or get a push in the running game. USC gained just 110 yards on 49 carries, and a lot of that yardage came on long runs by redshirt senior running back Allen Bradford and redshirt junior Marc Tyler.

“Our running backs need to learn how to run the ball because we don’t have a clue right now what it takes to be a championship running team,” Lane Kiffin said.

Redshirt junior defensive tackle DaJohn Harris, defensive end junior Armond Armstead and redshirt senior defensive tackle Derek Simmons each recorded a sack in the scrimmage.

“I think everything that’s happening here with the new coaches is going to make us so much better in the long run,” Horton said.

Mustain completed 7 of 14 passes for 104 yards and an interception. Freshman running back Dillon Baxter left practice with an ice pack on his knee after tweaking it on Saturday. Senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson hurt his elbow during the scrimmage and sat out the rest of practice.

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