Trojans focusing on themselves, not Syracuse

With special emphasis on details this week, USC hopes to put together its first complete performance of 2011.

LOS ANGELES – Two weeks ago, USC players and coaches were consumed by the prospect of trying to contain Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray.

A week ago, it was all about Utah and its defensive line.

This week? Hardly a peep about Syracuse.

No, the Trojans have declared this week is "all about us," as head coach Lane Kiffin termed it Thursday.

"It's not about who we're playing," he said. "We spent some extra time on some little details of things, the kind of things you would do in camp format to make sure we're not overlooking things because we do have some weaknesses through two weeks. We do have to improve on those and not just feel good because we're 2-0."

It's a sentiment that actually makes sense. Sure, they are undefeated (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), but haven't exactly impressed, needing last-second stops against the Golden Gophers and Utes.

The offense has drawn most of the criticism, having failed to top 30 points in any game going back to the first week of November last year. Turnovers and penalties are the main culprits derailing a unit that has shown flashes of greatness led by junior quarterback Matt Barkley, sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and redshirt senior running back Marc Tyler.

Relying on an inexperienced offensive line and skill players like freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee and redshirt freshmen tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer has also proven costly. Each had a breakdown, be it lining up in the wrong spot or a fumble or drop, which ended drives that could have blown games open.

"That really is kind of the story of our offense right now," Kiffin said. "There's just too many freshman mistakes that are happening right now. Those plays are haunting us right now."

It's the price you pay for playing youngsters, Kiffin added, pointing again to the drops future All-American receiver Mike Williams had at Kansas State in 2002.

"It's very frustrating because we're committed to trying to play young guys and when you do that, this happens a little bit," Kiffin said, hoping to get through the mistakes before entering the crux of the schedule starting next week at Arizona State.

The Orange (2-0) are at the other end of the spectrum, relying on a veteran offense led by senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who has thrown for 496 yards, six touchdowns against one interception and is completing 75.4 percent of his passes. But they have also been shaky, needing a furious fourth-quarter rally against Wake Forest and coming out flat last week against Rhode Island.

Those performances and the focus internally haven't affected USC's preparation, according to redshirt freshman linebacker Dion Bailey.

"Syracuse is the best team in the country to us this Saturday and we got to go out there and play like it and prepare like it too. If we do go up on them, we need to put our foot on their throat and shut the game off and not let them come back like we have these past two weeks," Bailey said.

"We're playing a team that got respect, a little scrappy team that is not afraid."

Still Kiffin is stressing the theme of the week.

"We have to improve, and we did improve from week one to week two. And that's the key to being a really good team is to continue to improve as we go into week three."


USCFootball.com Top Stories