Fall Camp: Offense struggles in scrimmage

Drops, protection issues plague first-team offense Sunday in the Coliseum.

LOS ANGELES – USC head coach Lane Kiffin wanted to see quarterback Matt Barkley improve his completion percentage in the Trojans' second scrimmage Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

The junior obliged, going 17 of 27 for 135 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, but the performance could have been so much better. The young wide receivers and tight ends dropped no fewer than four wide-open balls that would have extended drives, the offensive line struggled again and the first offense managed just six points against the starting defense.

"We wouldn't have played very well on offense if that was a real game. We got a long ways to go, headlined by the guards and the backup receivers. Someone has got to start playing," Kiffin said.

With sophomore Robert Woods (ankle) sidelined and redshirt senior Brandon Carswell (quadriceps) exiting early, Marqise Lee and Kyle Prater took most of the reps at receiver.

Lee had seven receptions for 87 yards, both team-highs. The true freshman from Gardena (Calif.) Serra showed his athleticism with a 56-yard catch and run, capping off a strong week.

"He has flashed in practice, especially over the last few days, and really showed up today," Kiffin said.

"Some freshmen showed up and a lot of freshmen did a lot of normal freshman things, made a bunch of mistakes. The guys that are showing up, it says a lot that they are at that point, obviously headlined by Marqise."

Prater added five receptions for 48 yards, while another redshirt freshman, tight end Xavier Grimble, caught a pair of short touchdowns.

But Kiffin cautioned that the return of Woods and Carswell wouldn't fix the offensive line.

Left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes held their own, while the rest of the front five struggled. Right tackle Kevin Graf was flagged for a couple of false start penalties, while neither John Martinez nor Martin Coleman distinguished themselves, even against the No. 3 defensive line, when they were allowed to cut block.

Kiffin did praise freshman Aundrey Walker, who moved from tackle to guard this week.

"I would hope at this point we'd be improving up there and I don't know that we did," Kiffin said.

"It didn't feel or look like anybody played well at guard."

Even with those issues, there were also signs of life from the ground game. Redshirt junior Curtis McNeal looked sharp on the opening drive before suffering a minor knee injury. Sophomore Dillon Baxter ran for 101 yards on 16 carries and also caught a 21-yard touchdown.

For Baxter, who went through myriad issues last season, his performance was vindication after working to change his attitude, body and running style.

"I've been through a lot here and this week feels good," he said.

Quick Hits
-In the competition to backup Barkley, Cody Kessler completed 14 of 21 passes for 86 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Max Wittek went 12 of 23 for 157 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

-Andre Heidari was 2-for-2 on field goal tries, converting from 21 and 46 yards.

-Defensive ends Kevin Greene and Charles Burks each had three sacks.

-The Trojans have Monday off and will resume practicing Tuesday at Howard Jones Field.


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