Posted by Bryan Fischer
LOS ANGELES -- It's hard to take away too much from Spring Games. Sometimes they're designed to make the offense look good or feature a certain player. Often enough they're too vanilla and are limited to a handful of big plays. Given the injuries that USC has sustained this spring, it's hard to take away much of anything.
Despite limited action for several starters, there were a few bright spots here and there for the Trojans as they wrapped up their Spring Game at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon.
“Well, I thought the storyline of the day would be, if this were a real game, the play of the first-team defense, especially early on before we took some guys out," Lane Kiffin said. "The two defensive ends played extremely well today, (along with) T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. That was good to see."
The receiving corps was particularly banged up for the Trojans, who mostly had walk-ons running routes for a bevy of quarterbacks. Freshman All-American wide receiver Robert Woods did not play after spraining his ankle playing basketball, which Kiffin subsequently declared off limits before a game in the future. Brandon Carswell left the game with a concussion and tight end Rhett Ellison also went down with a back injury.
Quarterback Matt Barkley had his moments but finished a pedestrian 22 of 42 for 212 yards and two interceptions as a result of a lack of options in the passing game.
“I think it’s hard to evaluate,” Kiffin quipped of Barkley. “You guys (the media) probably had to go to your rosters a lot to know who the guys were out there who were running routes for him.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on offense. It is hard to assess with so many people out for all of spring and so many people coming in that are going to have to play for us. It’s really hard to address where we’re at and figure it out.”
Quarterback Jesse Scroggins was 6-of-15 for 68 yards and had one interception while Cody Kessler went 4-of-6 for 24 yards. Both quarterbacks, along with Max Wittek, are looking to backup Barkley in the fall. Luckily the ground game seemed to be moving the chains on offense a bit more effectively. Running back D.J. Morgan rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries before coming out with injury but displayed the ability to turn the corner and then hit the jets on a nifty 36 yard run. Curtis McNeal also looked good and had 107 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
“The O-line pretty much stepped their game up today,” McNeal said. “They took so much criticism throughout the whole spring and today just came out and played. I just did my part and ran the ball.”
After being criticized much of last year, the defense showed flashes of old and played well throughout the day. They ended up "winning" the game 42-29 using a modified scoring system.
“The D is playing faster,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “Second year in the system, knowing it better. You see this, you see that."
Defensive end Nick Perry was a constant presence in the backfield and finished up with six tackles and two sacks. Cornerback Anthony Brown (who had an interception) and safety McDonald looked sharp in the secondary. In fact, the defense as a whole might have done even better had they been allowed to blitz.
“It may not have been my decision," the elder Kiffin said. "It might have been somebody, a guy with the last name Kiffin.”
With blitzes and several starters out for the Trojans, it's still hard to get a good read on what kind of team the Kiffins will have once the calendar turns to August. Ask them and they'll tell you the same thing.
Thanks to the creativity of Lane Kiffin though, perhaps it's fitting that USC ended their spring game - and spring practices - on a high note thanks to a reverse pass from tailback Dillon Baxter to Barkley for a touchdown.
"To finish off the Spring Game with a touchdown catch was a good feeling," Barkley said. "He haven't gone over it at all. Kiff just said let's do this. It was man coverage so it was a pretty easy play."
USC might need a lot of improvising in the fall if the injury issue continues to arise. They can only hope they all will end up as high notes.