USC assistant head coach Monte Kiffin has historically made a habit of designing defensive schemes more than capable of shutting down opposing offenses.
Kiffin, whose pedigree dates to his nearly-three-decade coaching stint in the NFL, has, however, watched the Trojan defense regress somewhat in recent weeks. Against Arizona, the Trojans allowed a school record 37 first downs and 554 yards. It also marked the first time in program history they had ever surrendered more than 40 points in consecutive weeks.
But with last Saturday marking their first bye week of the season, the Trojans remain hopeful the additional practice hours will help them as they travel to San Francisco on Wednesday for a nationally televised game against California a day later.
“The biggest thing is that we transfer what we get in the film room to the field,” junior safety T.J. McDonald said. “It all comes down to execution and making sure that we execute on the things that we are supposed to.”
Kiffin has been criticized on several occasions this season for the lack of consistency with the defense. In the Trojans’ last two games against Arizona and Arizona State, USC has surrendered an average of 42 points and allowed 473 total yards of offense, compared to just 16 points and 318 yards in its matchups against Minnesota, Utah and Syracuse.
“Earlier in the year we were playing better,” Kiffin said. “We were rocking and rolling a little bit. Then the two Arizona schools got to us.”
Because of the Thursday game, Tuesday’s practice marked the team’s final day of preperations for its second road game of the season.
Having had one more week to prepare and rest, junior quarterback Matt Barkley believes the timing is right to recharge, especially for the underclassmen.
“It gives you a physical rest when you’re still getting mental reps,” he said. “It was a chance for a lot of the younger, inexperienced players to get plays and keep them involved.
Cal comes into Thursday’s matchup averaging just less than 40 points per contest, which ranks ninth nationally in the nation. With a strong offensive opponent on the horizon, USC is hoping to slow down the Golden Bears’ passing attack.
Junior quarterback Zach Maynard has already thrown for 1,291 yards and 11 touchdowns through five games. He also has a pair of receivers in senior Marvin Jones and sophomore Keenan Allen who have combined for 1,109 yards and seven touchdowns this year.
“It’s got to get better,” Kiffin said. “Nick [Perry] has done a good job, but we need the other guys to pick it up.”
Sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey expressed similar sentiments.
“We always strive to be perfect every Saturday [or Thursday],” Robey said. “It’s a big road game for us being that it’s only our second game on the road. It is really important for us to come out there and set the tempo.”
In 2010, USC defeated Cal 48-14 at the Coliseum. USC coach Lane Kiffin, however, is not worried about the Trojans coming into AT&T Park overconfident.
“This is a different team,” he said. “We’re going to have our hands full going on the road.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jesse Scroggins has been cleared to practice after being sidelined from injury. Scroggins has been sidelined since the middle of August after having surgery on his throwing thumb.
“Jesse is back out here throwing and is cleared to play,” Lane Kiffin said. “We will throw him right back in the mix and hopefully he will be the backup.”
Senior defensive end Armond Armstead was present at practice and will join the team on the road in San Francisco. Armstead was sidelined from an undisclosed medical condition in the spring and will not play this season.
“His number one focus right now is getting his degree,” Lane Kiffin said. “He has a big decision to make in December/January whether he decides to come back and help us win a championship or if he decides to go to the NFL.”
It has not been confirmed whether redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris and freshman linebacker Lamar Dawson will be playing this week against Cal.
“We will look at them tomorrow and move them around,” Lane Kiffin said. “Hopefully they will be ready to go.”