Only two days remain until USC faces Syracuse in a primetime showdown at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. To correct both offensive and defensive mistakes from weeks one and two, the coaching staff plans to insert some new faces into the rotation.
Junior safety Drew McAllister will be playing Saturday. McAllister, who has a knack for interceptions, will aim to help the USC secondary against a potent Syracuse quarterback.
“T.J. [McDonald] has played every snap in the last two games,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “We told [McAllister] he is going to play in this game, third or fourth series.”
Along with McAllister, redshirt freshman cornerback Anthony Brown is expected to receive ample playing time, possibly starting over junior Tony Burnett and sophomore Torin Harris at cornerback.
“They say they want to play more guys and I am one of those guys they want to play,” Brown said. “It has been the same the past two weeks, but this week I’m really excited because I get a chance to play. I’m really fired up.”
The USC defense is looking for an overall improvement following two games that were ultimately decided in the fourth quarter.
“We came out and we finished, that’s something we have been working on,” junior safety T.J. McDonald said. “There’s a lot of things that people didn’t see in that game that made a huge difference in our game and our team. You can definitely see the growth in our defense.”
Kiffin praised the effort of the defensive line in the first two games, especially against its most recent opponent Utah.
“I think they are playing really well and have done a good job against [the] run,” Kiffin said. “There were times they were going to have a sack and something happened and they couldn’t get the sack. I think they had a really good game.”
The coaching staff believes there are certain areas where the secondary needs to grow.
“Our [defensive backs] continue to improve,” he said. “We’re still giving up a few third and longs that we got to get better at.”
Following stellar performances in the first half of both games, the Trojans will look to carry their first half energy into the remainder of the game.
“We’ve had glimpses of what we are capable of in mostly the first half of both games,” junior quarterback Matt Barkley said. “Being able to put that into two full halves this week is what we are trying to do.”
Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods are ready to compete against a Syracuse defense that ranked seventh in the nation last year.
“That was last year’s defense so got to let that go,” Woods said. “This year, we just got to attack them in the run game, in the air and perform like a top offense.”
In last week’s matchup against Utah, USC stuck to a run game against a tough Ute defense. This week, the Trojans are preparing for a similar challenge.
“Just getting right back at it and being ready for whatever they throw at us,” Woods said. “They play a lot of press. We just got to be ready for quick releases and explosive plays.”
The Trojans have confidence in true freshman kicker Andre Heidari. Heidari made a 47-yard field goal in last week’s game against Utah.
“We don’t have much experience there with our kicker being a true freshman,” Kiffin said. “But you do feel better because he has a stronger leg. We feel good about where he’s at right now.”
With young Trojans playing on both offense and defense, Kiffin hopes mistakes made in the first two games will be corrected as the season progresses.
“It’s very frustrating because we are committed to trying to play young guys,” he said. “We have so many inexperienced players. Breakdowns happen. As a head coach, you call the plays to win the game.”
Because of the inconsistency on offense, Barkley has been criticized in regards to his performance and statistics.
“I’m more pleased with wins than anything,” Barkley said. “Ultimately when it goes down in the record books, people see the wins and not my stats for that particular game.”
The USC offensive line still lacks a left guard. Although freshmen Aundrey Walker and Marcus Martin have been in the rotation at practice, Kiffin has not named the starter for Saturday.
“Just throw guys in there and see,” Kiffin said.
Junior center Abe Markowitz, who missed the first two games of the season, is expected to return soon and might be cleared as early as this week.