Much of Sunday’s conference call with USC coach Lane Kiffin went beyond the Trojans’ record-breaking offensive performances against Colorado, instead gravitating toward the question of why USC continues to incur double-digit penalties in most games. Against Colorado, USC committed 10 penalties for 90 yards, although, surprisingly, none were of the false start or delay-of-game variety.
The Trojans’ play in the first half was so undisciplined, in fact, that Kiffin gathered his players on the sideline at the end of the half to scold them before they could retreat into the locker room.
“I don’t really have a theory on it,” Kiffin said when asked why USC is ranked last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in penalties per game. “It’s obviously really disappointing.”
The coaching staff’s disappointment spilled over into its halftime locker room discussions, as Kiffin’s staff reprimanded the team for its senseless penalties, especially the personal fouls. Redshirt freshman linebacker Anthony Sarao and freshman defensive tackle Leonard Williams both committed personal fouls, and sophomore defensive tackle George Uko earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first half.
“I’ve never spent a halftime like that before, where the entire halftime was on penalties and composure with the guys,” Kiffin said. “I’m hoping we hit rock-bottom in the first half. When we have the personal fouls like we have, that’s a disgrace to our university, to all of our great players that have played here before.”
Moving forward, Kiffin has implored USC’s captains — seniors Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes and T.J. McDonald and junior Nickell Robey — to take ownership of the problem and communicate the importance of playing with a level head.
As for Williams’ personal foul penalty that drew an ejection, Kiffin hopes Williams, whom he has repeatedly praised as the rare true freshman to emerge as an impact player, can learn from his momentary lapse in judgment. After the game, several teammates claimed that a Colorado offensive lineman spat on Williams underneath a pile of players, prompting his punch.
“He’s a true freshman, and he made a mistake,” Kiffin said. “He apologized for it to the team afterwards. He’ll learn from it and grow from it.”
Kiffin expected to hear from the Pac-12 on Monday whether Williams would earn a suspension for Saturday’s game at Arizona, but there was no official release as of late Monday night.
Sophomore offensive tackle Aundrey Walker left midway through the third quarter on a medical cart with an apparent neck injury. After the game, Walker was notably absent from the locker room and reportedly spent the night in a hospital.
Because of health privacy laws, Kiffin was unable to expand much on Walker’s condition, but did state that Walker attended Sunday’s team meeting and that “things seem to be very positive.”
Initially splitting snaps with Walker before filling in for the rest of the game, freshman Max Tuerk once again drew Kiffin’s praise for his stout play.
In addition to USC’s headliners, several younger players and veteran backups recorded significant personal milestones.
Junior wide receiver De’Von Fluornoy, in his fourth year with the program, recorded his first career reception, as did freshman tight end Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick.
Kiffin said that USC players “cheered when [Fluornoy’s] catch came up” while they were reviewing game film.
Other offensive players who experienced breakthroughs were redshirt freshman quarterback Max Wittek and sophomore running back D.J. Morgan who connected on a 24-yard pass for the first career touchdown for both players.
Defensively, the team’s three interceptions came from unlikely sources. Senior safety Drew McAllister registered his first interception since 2008, and junior safety Gerald Bowman and senior linebacker Tony Burnett snared their first career interceptions.
“There were some good stories from that game of non-starters,” Kiffin said. “Their starters were in for the most part late, and [our] backups and young guys performed well.”