Spring Game Report: Defense Whips Offense

The Trojans' defense beat the offense 34-27 in USC's annual Spring Game.

Don't blame the wind.

The lack of top-notch quarterbacking at USC's annual spring game can't be wholly attributed to the cold, often irritating wind that swept through the L.A. Coliseum Saturday.

"What coach always says is, 'the wind doesn't affect a well-thrown ball,'" Cody Kessler said after the Defense beat the Offense 34-27 in a lackluster performance by all Trojan signalcallers.

Perhaps the wind had something to do with it. Perhaps the crowd of nearly 16,000 did, too. Or perhaps it was a lack of offensive weapons.

Kessler said you can't excuse nerves or the wind, but just have to play up to the opportunity.

"(There were) no nerves, just trying to come out here and get on the same page," Kessler said. "It's kind of difficult to do when you don't really have a rhythm, like Matt will go then Max will go then you have to wait three series to go. We're just trying to come out here and kind of learn from everybody else and compete."

The lack of rhythm was definitely apparent as Matt Barkley commanded the huddle every-other series, while aspiring backups Cody Kessler and Max Wittek rotated with one another the drive following.

As expected, the defensive assignments didn't alter much while the offense played a continuous game of musical chairs with a variety of signalcallers in the second half, including Jesse Scroggins, Anthony Nyer and John Manoogian.

But some offensive weapons did show up, including D.J. Morgan, who was named the game's Most Valuable Player, and Xavier Grimble, who looked close to healthy catching nearly 75 school-recorded yards in the game.

"Coach told me he was like, 'I'm going to give you an opportunity to make a couple plays today,'" he explained. "I'm not 100 percent but I'm stable enough to go out there and make a few plays so I just wanted to come out and give it what I had."

While the tight end's toe is not at full strength, the lack of available players forced him to play a bit more than expected. Grimble said the time off will be welcomed.

"It's a relief anytime you go through a camp and you get to the end. Even though I missed a lot of reps this spring which was kind of hard, I had to get over that. I was kind of worried about what was going to happen when I got back, 'was I going to be out of shape, were my feet going to be under me?' but I finished out pretty good I think."

Who else finished out 'pretty good' included Soma Vainuku, who scored a touchdown in the scrimmage -- his second in back-to-back weeks -- receiver De'Von Flournoy whom Kiffin called the surprise player of the offseason and Brian Baucham, who intercepted Kessler Saturday, his second pick of the spring.

"You get an interception, your body is like 'I can do anything now,'" Baucham said.

Kiffin said last week that the cornerback plays much bigger than his 5-11, 170-pound frame.

"I'm one of the smallest corners on the team. At the same time I play like I'm 200 pounds," Baucham explained. "My momentum -- my whole life I've been the smallest guy but that never stopped me before.

"That encourages me to keep going hard and the biggest guy, I'm going to hit him no matter what."

As players walked to tables to sign autographs for awaiting fans, Kiffin summed up the spring season:

First, the bad:

"I think the negatives would obviously be Tre (Madden), what happened there after what was looking like a great move. And I think George Farmer's injury, after those first couple days he looked really special and we haven't seen him healthy for a long period of time so that was good to see initially and then we didn't really get to see anything else, after that out of him."

Farmer added that his biggest lesson from the spring was he has "to figure out how to take care of my body, because that's just what is holding me back right now."

As for the good, Kiffin said the improved play in the Trojans' back seven impressed him.

"I think the young linebackers are playing really well. Like I've mentioned, the (defensive backs) have improved a lot so that was very critical especially with a new coach back there."

Baucham agrees that the coaching of Marvin Sanders has helped his personal growth and play.

"The new coaching I've got is coming to me real easy. Marvin I love that guy. I've taken his coaching really seriously," he said. "I feel like I'm just more mature and coming up."

In two days USC's official post-spring depth chart will be released. While it is likely to include an OR next to Kessler and Wittek's name behind Barkley, Kiffin said there was no separation between the two freshmen after Saturday.

Regardless of what happens, Wittek doesn't believe any decision makes anything final.

"I don't think so," he said. "Matt's not gone yet."

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