USC Looks For Cavalier Attitude

After a week of second-guessing after yielding 588 yards and 36 points to Hawaii, the Trojans will get their chance to respond in their home opener against Virginia.

Running back Dillon Baxter will make his debut Saturday night, but fans would be just as thrilled if the USC defense shows up.

After a week of second-guessing after yielding 588 yards and 36 points to Hawaii, the Trojans will get their chance to respond in their home opener against Virginia.

Along with the expected return of defensive end Nick Perry (ankle) and cornerback T.J. Bryant (cheek), the defense should also be buoyed by facing off against a pro-style offense similar to what it faces everyday in practice.

"It should be a better match-up," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "It is similar as far as formations and plays, stuff that our guys have done all spring ball and all camp. We'd like to think that that would help.

"One game will not define us as a team. One game won't define us as a unit. I know we're going to play much better this Saturday night."

Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin and defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron have made adjustments in hopes of getting more productivity from the defensive line, moving Armond Armstead inside.

Assuming Perry is ready to go, he and Wes Horton will likely start at defensive end.

"If we do our job, it makes it easier on the secondary," Armstead said. "All we have to do is rush the passer. They're going to improve, and we're going to be a lot better."

They will be asked to handle an offense that showed plenty of balance in the Cavaliers' 34-13 win over Richmond, with 283 passing yards from quarterback Marc Verica and 205 rushing, 114 from bruising tailback Keith Payne.

And for all the concern about the defense, Virginia (1-0) might not be better positioned to contain the Trojans offense.

Quarterback Matt Barkley threw as many touchdown passes as incomplete passes – five – at Hawaii, while running back Marc Tyler added 154 rushing yards and a touchdown in his first career start.

Star cornerback Ras-I Dowling is questionable with a hamstring injury, while strong safety Rodney McLeod (knee) is "unlikely" to play, first-year Virginia coach Mike London said.

Dowling is regarded as the top senior corner prospect and a likely first-round draft pick, making him the Cavaliers' best option to contain Ronald Johnson, who tied a school-record with three touchdown receptions in the opener.

"He played extremely well last year," said Kiffin of Dowling. "Big, fast, physical – he would present us some issues."

While Dowling has previously stayed on one side of the field, Kiffin believes that he could shadow Johnson this week.

"That could all change with Ronald having as much success as he had last week and the guy starting on the other side is a true freshman in Robert (Woods)," he said.

But the biggest focus will be on Baxter, who was suspended for the opener for a violation of team rules. The freshman from San Diego Mission Bay had a series of highlight reel plays in the spring and has the versatility to contribute as a runner, receiver and Wildcat quarterback, leading Kiffin to call him perhaps the team's most talented player.

"That got me pretty hyped for this week," said Baxter of his one-game suspension. "I was hyped in practice and now I'm looking forward to the game.

Baxter is expected to see about a half-dozen touches, but that role could increase depending on circumstances, including ball security, Kiffin said.

"I've been waiting, what, five years now I've been waiting for this moment? Yeah I'm excited," said Baxter of his emotions going into his first game.

"That first play in the Coli, I think I'll be a little nervous but after that first one I'll be good." Top Stories