Trojans focus on cohesion

There’s no doubt that last year’s 47-20 drubbing at Oregon was one of the worst losses in USC’s recent history.

Eyes up · Senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson tracks down a long pass in practice. Johnson said the team is in sync entering Saturday’s big game. - Mannat Saini | Daily Trojan

With those same Ducks coming to town this weekend, most of the emphasis in USC’s practice has been placed on slowing down Oregon’s offense and the need for the Trojans offense to score on par with the Ducks. But one major adjustment the Trojans have made from last year that they believe will help them this weekend is that they are playing more as a team.

“I feel that we’re a better team this year than last year because there was a lot of players that were playing for themselves more than for the team,” senior running back Allen Bradford said. “I feel like this year everybody is a team, every break we have is a team, everyone feels like we’re doing it for a team and not individually. Just like that I think [this game] is not going be like that last year at all.”

Bradford said he felt players were more focused on playing for the NFL and for themselves last year rather than for each other.

“My past years with Cush, Rey and all those guys my freshman, sophomore, junior year, it felt like we were more of a team and then last year guys were just like, ‘I’m going to ball for myself and whatever happens,’” Bradford said.

He said USC coach Lane Kiffin has established a team-like mentality with everyone since spring practice and that the Trojans have grown together and gelled as a team. That attitude has helped the Trojans get through the two heartbreaking losses on last-second field goals this year, he said.

“[Kiffin] has definitely more of a team atmosphere, and last year it was more individualism,” senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson said.

When asked if this team atmosphere can help the Trojans avoid suffering a repeat of last year’s beating and help them win the game on Saturday, Johnson didn’t hesitate.

“Definitely,” he said. “We’re playing for one another now.”

If there’s a way to beat Oregon, Kiffin said to just look at the Arizona State game.

Although the 42-31 victory was the smallest winning margin for the year for the Ducks and the 42 points were the lowest they have scored this season, the main thing that stuck out to Kiffin was that the Sun Devils forced Oregon to punt 11 times.

“Arizona State’s defense going up against the No. 1 offense in the country … it was phenomenal what they did that day when you think about it,” Kiffin said. “If there is a blueprint how to play them, they did, but they just turned the ball over too much.”

Those turnovers are what hurt Arizona State in the end. The Sun Devils turned the ball over seven times, and the Trojans know they can’t give the Ducks more opportunities to score than they will already have.

“They do a good job getting the ball out,” senior fullback Stanley Havili said. “It’s going to help us win this game if we can keep the ball on our side.”

The Trojans are relishing their underdog role, something that was once rare for them. The last No. 1 team to come into the Coliseum was in 1988 when No. 1 Notre Dame played No. 2 USC — before most of the Trojan players had even been born.

“It feels great,” Johnson said. “I’m a senior. To knock these guys off it’s going to feel great.”

Kiffin said that the last three weeks, when a different No. 1 team has lost every time, show how hard it is to stay on top.

“I think back to being fortunate to be here [prior to leaving USC],” Kiffin said. “You take that for granted especially when you win 34 straight games. Now that you’re on the other side of that you see how focused your players are before you even say anything to them because they are playing the No. 1 team in the country.”

Senior linebacker Malcolm Smith, senior running back C.J. Gable and freshman running back Dillon Baxter did not practice Tuesday because of lingering injuries.