It doesn’t get any easier for No. 20 USC.
The Trojans opened the first of three weekly practices Tuesday in preparation for a nationally televised game against No. 4 Stanford at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday after winning their second consecutive road win last week at Notre Dame — their third consecutive victory since a 43-22 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 24.
“I think we feel that mojo, that swagger we need to have on both sides of the ball,” junior quarterback Matt Barkley said. “Because we put together a full game, I think that helps with our overall team confidence, something that we’ll need going into this game.”
Against Notre Dame, Barkley completed 24 of 35 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, arguably his best game of the season. Against Stanford, he will face off against the Cardinal’s own top-notch signal caller, Andrew Luck.
So far, Barkley has downplayed the matchup.
“It doesn’t make a difference in how I prepare,” he said. “There’s nothing that he is going to do to stop me and I can’t stop him. We just have to play our game and not worry about that.”
Though the Barkley-Luck showdown will likely gain plenty of attention, USC’s defense has quietly looked much improved in recent weeks.
Last week also marked improvement for the oft-maligned defensive unit, holding Notre Dame to a season-low 41 yards on the ground.
“The easiest place to tackle is going to be right up the middle,” senior linebacker Chris Galippo said. “If we’re sound up front and in the middle of our defensive core, we will play better as a unit.”
Galippo credits the younger players’ preparation and gameday executions by the younger players for the team’s recent success.
“All together, our team defense is probably the best it has been since I have been here,” Galippo said.
USC coach Lane Kiffin stated that much of the Trojans’ recent offensive production can be credited to the chemistry between Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods.
“You have two kids that really work at being great,” Kiffin said. “They have the same mentality whether we are there or not.”
Barkley and Woods hope to have a repeat of their performance at last year’s game against Stanford.
“Last year, I think a lot of things clicked for our offense,“ Barkley said. “Our tempo was fast, we were getting the ball out and he [Woods] was really making plays.”
Kiffin hopes Barkley will maintain his focus despite the hype leading up to the game on Saturday.
“Right now it is just about preparing,” Kiffin said. “We have to make sure that he continues to play the same way and doesn’t try to force it.”
Freshman kicker Andre Heidari was limited in practice Tuesday after suffering an injury to his right ankle Saturday against Notre Dame. The injury occurred during the Notre Dame kickoff return.
“It’s just a deep bruise,” Heidari said. “I’ll be out here kicking tomorrow so we’ll see how it feels.”
Woods and redshirt sophomore cornerback Torin Harris did not practice today. According to Kiffin, Woods is suffering from multiple injuries that have not been disclosed.
“Robert didn’t practice today and hopefully he will be healthy this week,” Kiffin said. “Outside of that, I think he has played really well.”
Kiffin credits Woods’ size and ability for his versatility on the field.