Through fall camp, the tailback competition was so close that USC coach Lane Kiffin refused to disclose the starter prior to the team’s season opener against Minnesota.
On USC’s first offensive possession, the starting tailback was wearing uniform number No. 30, even though the Trojans did not have an offensive player with that jersey on their official roster.
The starter was not a last-minute addition to the squad; rather, redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan decided to switch his number from No. 34 the day before the game.
“I know it threw off a lot of fans,” Morgan said. “I wanted 30 all along. That was my high school number.”
Morgan, who learned that he would be the starter less than 24 hours before kick-off, rushed for 70 yards on 18 attempts.
“I did not feel that I had secured the starting job, even though I came out first,” Morgan said. “I wanted to establish myself so that I would get more carriers the rest of the game.”
Junior Curtis McNeal had 33 yards on six carries, with a long of 27 yards. Sophomore Dillon Baxter did not run the ball, but had a reception for three yards.
“The running game was just OK, but it did come to life when we needed it,” Kiffin said. “Then again, we have four guys playing offensive line at a position they have never played before in college football, so it could have been worse.”
After each of USC’s first two touchdowns, the Trojans tried to complete two-point conversions. Both attempts, the first a run by redshirt senior fullback Rhett Ellison and the second a pass by junior quarterback Matt Barkley, were stopped by the Golden Gophers. The Trojans finally utilized freshman place kicker Andre Heidari after Robert Woods scored USC’s third touchdown of the game.
The two failed two-point conversion very well could have been the difference in the game. On Minnesota’s final drive late in the fourth quarter, the Trojans led by two points, meaning the Golden Gophers only needed a field goal to take the lead. Should the Trojans have successful attempted point-after attempts following the first two touchdowns, USC would have led by four points, and forced Minnesota to score a touchdown to overtake the lead.
“I do not worry about things I cannot control,” Kiffin said. “At this point you cannot go back and change your decision.”
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris’ interception on Minnesota’s last possession made questioning the decisions of whether to attempt two-point conversions a moot point.
Kiffin did not mince words when asked whether the Trojans could beat Utah on Sept. 10 if they played like they did against Minnesota.
“No,” he said.
Utah is 1-0 after defeating Montana State on Sept.1. Under the guidance of former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, junior quarterback Jordan Wynn completed 15-of-23 attempts for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and junior running back John White recorded 150 rushing yards with two touchdowns.