The USC football team enjoyed a win sprinkled with some sun in Hawaii last weekend, but it was back to work Tuesday as the team worked to sort out problems that arose Thursday, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.
Coach Lane Kiffin immediately tinkered with the lineup, moving junior defensive end Armond Armstead inside to defensive tackle to open up space for redshirt sophomore Nick Perry at defensive end. Perry didn’t play against Hawai’i because a high ankle sprain, but he was out on the field Tuesday practicing with the first unit.
“Nick looked good. His ankle is fine. It’s still bothering him a little bit, but he said it’s a lot better than it was last week,” Armstead said.
Armstead also met with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron yesterday, who told him that he felt more comfortable with the junior on the inside of the line. Armstead said he has wanted to play there since he came to USC, and Orgeron and Kiffin hope this move will solidify the defensive line.
“We’re going to make sure we are looking at the right guys and getting our rotation down,” Kiffin said. “Obviously we’re not pleased with the way our defensive line played, especially with our backups, so we’ve got to make sure we’re playing with the right guys.”
The Trojans are continuing their non-tackling ways at practice this week even though the defense missed many tackles against Hawai’i.
Kiffin said he’s addressing the problem by having players work on tackling in individual drills, but stressed that because of a thin depth chart, staying healthy is the first priority.
“We’re not going to change the way we practice. It’s too valuable to stay healthy to have our frontline guys out there,” Kiffin said. “Even though we have issues tackling I like looking at our injury report going into this week seeing that all our front line guys will be available for our home opener.”
Sophomore safety Jawanza Starling said there’s one way the defense could solve that issue.
“You can’t just think that once somebody hits him he’s going down,” Starling said. “You got to gang tackle, get everybody to the football and just run and sprint to the football.”
Saturday’s game against Virginia is the first game for the new-look Trojans at home this season, but it’s also the much-anticipated first game for freshman running back Dillon Baxter.
Baxter didn’t travel with the team to Hawaii because he violated team rules. He said he learned his lesson and that sitting at home watching the game on television was the worst experience he had in football since his mother took his trophies away from him when he was 7 for doing poorly on a science test.
Baxter was back at practice Tuesday and Kiffin said the most important thing for him on Saturday will be to protect the ball.
“First concern always with freshmen is taking hits,” Kiffin said. “Especially him because he hasn’t been hit in practice. So most importantly take care of the ball and see what he can do from there.”
Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley didn’t hold himself back when talking about what Baxter will add to the offense.
“It’s going to be huge. Just another tool in my toolbelt,” Barkley said. “He’s going to be great whether we use him as a quarterback, running back or just as a receiver. He can do all three. He’s going to be a huge weapon for us.”
Junior cornerback T.J. Bryant was back on the field yesterday. Bryant has been out all fall camp since senior fullback Stanley Havili broke his cheekbone in a skirmish earlier in the summer. Bryant played in all 13 games last year and brings some needed experience to the secondary.
“T.J. was full participation today out there — moved around, did some things. It’s good to have him back and in the mix,” Kiffin said.