Eight months and five days since its last game, the USC football team flew to Hawaii Tuesday night to prepare for its season opener Thursday. Taking into account all the negative news the team has received and change it has undergone during the off-season, eight months seemed like an eternity to some players.
“We’ve all waited a long time for this,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “It seems like the offseason was two years long.”
The Trojans held a final walkthrough Tuesday afternoon before getting on the plane. That practice concluded a two-week preparation experience for the team, and coach Lane Kiffin can understand if players’ minds were already in Hawaii during yesterday’s practice.
“I think that we started this thing so early,” Kiffin said. “Last week we went through a whole Hawai’i week — Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practices — and we did it again this week so this was their second Thursday practice in a row. They weren’t right [last week], they were very comfortable and weren’t very crisp. That’s how you get beat.”
For Kiffin, pretty much the only thing that he has yet to see for the season opener is the opponent, but this has only contributed to his excitement about stepping on the field as USC’s head coach.
“I’m most excited to get it going,” Kiffin said. “It’s kind of different than I pictured it because of everything we’ve gone through since [I accepted the job] but it’s a lot of relief.”
For the players, this ends one of the most mentally tough camps they have been a part of. Because of the limited numbers on the team, Kiffin and his staff tightly controlled the physical aspect of fall camp and instead gave the players a lot more time in the weight and media rooms.
“This was definitely mentally tougher than last year,” Barkley said. “We didn’t do as much hitting or running as last year but the mental load challenged a lot of guys, and I think it was really important to building us as a team.”
Barkley said the team watched Matt Leinart’s performance against Hawai’i when the Trojans won 63-17 in 2005 and gained some tips from that. But because USC hasn’t had much full-speed game experience this year, the Trojans hope they can execute everything on the field that they haven’t been able to during camp because of small numbers.
“Some of the question marks revolve around just playing well: tackling on defense, not turning the ball over on offense and not trying to do too much because of anticipation that this game is finally here,” Kiffin said.
Barkley has repeatedly stated that this is a business trip. He believes the team is prepared for this game and is confident his teammates won’t get distracted in Hawaii.
“I’m confident they’ll have their heads down and not do anything crazy,” Barkley said. “We’re on a pretty tight schedule. Friday will be the time to celebrate after the game.”