Though senior quarterback Matt Barkley got the majority of the applause from the 15,515 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the annual spring game Saturday, it was the defense that made the biggest plays of the day.
The defense, wearing white jerseys, beat the cardinal clad offense 34-27 in the annual contest that marks the end of spring practice.
Barkley started the contest and went 23-39 with one touchdown and one interception. Redshirt sophomore running back D.J. Morgan had a 47-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but the offense was stagnant after that.
Instead, it was senior cornerback Isiah Wiley and the defense who ended up being the stars, forcing several turnovers and making play after play while constantly blanketing the receivers.
“He came out today. He came out big time today,” junior cornerback Nickell Robey said of Wiley.
Robey said the reason the defense shined Saturday was because of veteran leadership and experience.
“We have a lot of older guys that take leadership [and] that have stepped up a lot,” Robey said. “The young guys … are following along, and that’s the biggest thing. That’s the key. As long as we keep that going, the sky’s the limit.”
Though this was the last official practice until August, Robey acknowledged he has a lot of work to do before summer practice opens in August.
“It’s going to be a big offseason for me,” Robey said. “I’m going to … just have everything down to a ‘T’ … game in, game out, even on my bad day, I want to have the greatest day.”
The defense scored 34 points Saturday, with each stop worth three points and each turnover worth five points.
Barkley, along with redshirt freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, took the majority of the snaps at quarterback during the game.
Though it was a game dominated by defense, a few stars shined on the offensive end.
Redshirt junior receiver De’Von Flournoy had seven catches for 69 yards and redshirt sophomore tight end Xavier Grimble led all receivers with 73 yards.
“When coach calls my number, just be ready to go pretty much,” Grimble said. “When the opportunity comes, you got to be ready to make them.”
Grimble said that one of the reasons the offense has been out of sync the past few weeks is because of injuries.
“We got a lot of guys hurt. We haven’t really got everybody together yet,” Grimble said. “But this spring was good. We got some good reps, and as long as we keep working hard, stay humble, stay focused and just look to the end of the tunnel, and just keep moving forward, things are going to be just fine.”
Grimble did not appear alarmed by the lack of firepower at the spring game and said the offense looks better than it did a year ago.
“We’re more ahead of where we were last spring,” Grimble said. “You got to focus on the small things, like little details on routes or blocking and stuff like that, and just master the small part, and the big part comes.“
The Trojans are expected to be ranked in the preseason top five when the college football polls are released in the summer, and expectations are very high for the group.
Grimble said that the pressure has not gotten to the team, and that they haven’t bought into the hype.
“Our coaches do a great job of keeping us grounded,” Grimble said. “That’s the good thing about this team, even within the team — we keep ourselves grounded … it’s not about the hype, it’s about the prep. Coach Kiffin preaches that every day. And as long as we follow that … we’ll be just fine.”
The Trojans will resume organized practice at the beginning of August.
By that time, the team will likely be able to take advantage of the new John McKay Center, which will house football offices, locker rooms and treatment facilities for the team.