The Playbook Rewind

A recap of the week of September 3rd - 9th at USC...

From No. 1 to No. 2
Despite opening their season with a 39 point win over Hawaii, USC lost their preseason No. 1 AP Poll ranking and slipped to No. 2 behind Alabama.

"I'd agree with that," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said on Tuesday. "I didn't watch any of the game because we can't, but from what I heard, (Alabama) played a really good Michigan team."

Kiffin added that he really doesn't care about the ranking, neither does his quarterback Matt Barkley, "I've said from the get-go, it doesn't mean anything to me," he said.

Barkley says the poll is not a motivator for him, but perfection is. The Trojans are 2-0 entering week three.

Walk Throughs
Kiffin announced prior to Hawaii that the LA Coliseum would be closed to visiting team walk-throughs, to help preserve the grass. Now, is walk through-gate really necessary?

The Trojans decided to talk a walk-through Saturday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It's out of routine for a Kiffin coached team, but the Trojans had an extra day to kill on the east coast. "We're bored," Kiffin said, "we needed something to do."

Keep Your Helmet On!
No doubt, you've noticed the referees announcing multiple times throughout games that a player will be out for a play due to their helmet coming off during the previous play. It's a new rule in college football this year – lose your helmet, sit a play.

The Trojans, like other other college teams, spoke to their players about the importance of buckling up tight. "We have talked to our players a lot about it," Kiffin said, "about making sure that not only are they buckled, but they're not in a loose format like kids wanted sometimes. We've been practicing that way, too, all camp."

East Coast Bias
The Trojans traveled to New Jersey to take on Syracuse… and the entire east coast? Not exactly.

Many west-coasters believe in this "east coast bias" situation, you know – where east coast teams are favorited in every poll, every broadcast, every article…and on. However, Kiffin didn't see the trip as a chance for USC to prove there is football on the West Coast, as well. "I don't think of it that way," he said during the week. "I think that's overrated. Last time we were here there were three Heisman trophy winners so I don't really buy into that."

NFL Stadium
USC's trip to New Jersey provided many unique experiences for the team. A longer road trip, a trip to the east coast, and playing in an NFL stadium.

"To play in MetLife (Stadium) is going to be a fun experience" Barkley said of playing in the NFL venue. "It's going to be great. NFL, new stadium," echoed his teammate, tailback Curtis McNeal. "We're going to be ready for the environment."

Barkley through for six touchdowns at MetLife. Perhaps a sign of his future?

2-0
The Trojans move to 2-0 on the season after defeating Syracuse 42-29 at MetLife Stadium. Though there was plenty of hype surrounding USC's trip to New York City, the game fell rather flat. The announced attendance was 39,000, less than half of MetLife's capacity, and over half of those there were Trojan fans.

The game was delayed at halftime for 70-minutes due to weather and despite a record-tying performance by Barkley, the game seemed to fall flat. Both Kiffin and Barkley said after the game that the entire day had a "weird" feeling to it.

Quarterbacks
Kiffin kept to his word and played both backups, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler during USC's 49-10 win over Hawaii. Back at practice Monday, it was still Wittek taking the backup snaps, as expected.

Matt Barkley turned 22 years old on Saturday as the Trojans took on Syracuse. He threw for six touchdowns – tying his own school record, going 23-of-30, for 187 yards. His teammates were sure to sing Happy Birthday to him in the locker room following the win.

Receivers
9 and 2.

What else is there to say? Those are they numbers called on and talked about day in and day out of practice, game day is no different. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee continue to build on the threat of being the top receiving tandem in the country.

Looks like freshman Nelson Agholor has won the third spot. It's not explicitly listed on the depth chart, but Agholor was the first receiver off the bench against Syracuse and he's getting the most looks of the remaining receivers at practice.

Tailbacks
The Trojans run game was absent versus Hawaii and it certainly was addressed all week at practice. "We need to play better up front," Kiffin said on Tuesday. "we had a couple holes that we were a little late on, so we need to coach better, too."

1,000-plus yard rusher Curtis McNeal was not too openly concerned about his lack of contribution and production in the Trojans season opener, "we're just staying focused," he said throughout the week at practice, "not letting last game get to us."

McNeal said the only thing the tailbacks could do was stay ready for their number to be called. Kiffin pointed out during the practice that McNeal handled the lack of carries like a true leader and that perhaps it wouldn't have gone over in the past as well as it did on Saturday. "I thought they were great," Kiffin said, "especially Curtis in that situation, for somebody who maybe somebody who years ago wouldn't have been that way. I talked to him after the game about how well he handled himself."

The unit received a blow to their depth on Wednesday, only to be discovered on Twitter. "Everyone pray for me please! Im going into a minor surgery today with me knee I'll be out for only 3-4 weeks!" tweeted D.J. Morgan. Asked for confirmation of the situation after practice, Kiffin said "Yeah, that's true." No other details were given about Morgan's injury. Oh, and Morgan's tweet was deleted shortly after. Can't imagine it went over well with Kiffin that his player tweeted injury information when it's supposed to be kept on the hush.

With Morgan out, it once again puts Silas Redd in the spotlight, "It just goes back to how important getting Silas was," Kiffin said on Wednesday. "We're sure happy to have him."

The tailbacks played a significantly larger role in the game against Syracuse. McNeal had 11 carries for 66 yards, while Redd had 15 carries for 108 yards.

Tight Ends
Xavier Grimble got in the action on Saturday. Grimble broke four tackles on his way to his first touchdown of the season, off a 22-yard pass from Barkley.

Offensive Line
On Tuesday Kiffin said the offensive line had a solid practice, "I thought they had a really good practice," he said. "Unfortunately we didn't have a very good practice defensively today, so I thought the offensive line responded, so I'm sure tomorrow the defense will respond."

The line may have received it's biggest blow of the season on Saturday at Syracuse as senior center Khaled Holmes was carted off the field. It appeared to be an injury to his right ankle. Kiffin has given no update on the status of his center. If Holmes is out, the Trojans will turn to redshirt freshman Cyrus Hobbi. Hobbi saw a few snaps against Syracuse.

Defense
It wasn't a great week of practice for the Trojans' defense. "I don't know the reason," Kiffin said on Tuesday, after a poor showing. "We just didn't perform very well. We had some balls go over our head."

The focus at practice as the Trojans prepared for Syracuse was on their secondary. "We purposely want to attack them in the passing game," Kiffin said, "because I totally believe this is a big time test."

The emphasis was put on picking up turnovers, something the Trojans have struggled with since Kiffin has been back at USC.

The defense's up and down week at practice continued Wednesday, though Kiffin said it was better than the previous day.

Defensive Line
The question marks surrounding the Trojans defensive line are starting to disappear. Kiffin's plan to get a good rotation going on the line is coming to fruition.

Senior defensive end Wes Horton, who did not play against Hawaii and who spent significant time sidelined during fall camp, saw his first game action of the season versus Syracuse. Horton did, however, sit out during the second half of game action.

If a surprise player of the season had to be named after only two weeks, it would no doubt be Morgan Breslin. The junior JUCO transfer recorded five tackles, two for a loss, and picked up a sack against Syracuse after a strong week one showing against Hawaii.

Linebackers
Coming off the Hawaii win, praise for the linebacking unit went mostly to weakside lienbacker – turned middle linebacker Hayes Pullard. "Hayes played really well," said Kiffin on Wedneday, "especially playing a position he had not played before in a game."

Sidelined since fall camp, Lamar Dawson said on Wednesday, "I expect to play. I've been practicing, getting reps, and I'm just ready to get back on the field." Dawson was announced as a starter at the Trojans' season opener, but never stepped foot on the field. Dawson did in fact see his the field for the first time at Syracuse, playing in the second quarter. He recorded one tackle against the Orange.

Simione Vehikite returned to the team after sitting out due to legal issues. "I just want to thank the coaches for allowing me back," he said on Wednesday. "I just want to thank them for giving me another opportunity. "One of the things of our job is we're allowed to work with young kids that make mistakes," said Kiffin, "and we're allowed to give kids second chances. I'm glad we were able to do that."

Dion Bailey pulled in two interceptions Saturday against Syracuse. He also piled up eight tackles.

Cornerbacks
Junior cornerback Nickell Robey continues to look as dependable as ever.

The question is, who plays opposite Robey?

The week proved as a big test for Anthony Brown, Brian Baucham, and Torin Harris. "They need to play really well," Kiffin said on Tuesday. "I already said it, I don't think we made many plays in the secondary on the ball in that game and we gave up more yards than we should have to Hawaii."

Kiffin echoed the statement all week, saying again on Wednesday that his secondary need to step up and that they weren't truly tested against Hawaii.

The unit received a bump in depth when Torin Harris stated on Wednesday that he was back. Kiffin said Harris was playing well last year, when he played. He said Harris would be a key to the Trojans' defense.

All three corner's were guilty of giving up a few big plays on Saturday versus Syracuse. The Orange went away from Robey all day, as was expected.

Here is what Kiffin said at the postgame press conference regarding the cornerback play:

"Not real well today as you saw and obviously why you are bringing it up. We've got to do a better job, we gave up way too many fades and slants over there on the other side. We were playing Nickell inside at nickel today, so he'd be in there on a lot of different balls and blitzing, so you don't have him outside and they stayed in the huddle a lot of the game and three wide stuff so Nickell was inside. They did a good job on offense, they took advantage of us outside."

Brown is listed as the lone starter opposite of Robey going into Saturday's game against Stanford.

Special Teams
It was apparent when USC played Hawaii that place kicker Andre Heidari was out with an injury. No details were given, but the game sure changed in his absence as the Trojans continued to go for two point conversions instead of kicking the point after.

Kiffin said Wednesday he didn't know if redshirt sophomore Craig McMahon could kick in place of Heidari, "We're going to have to find out, if that's the case," is all he said.

Little did we know, when eyes were turned watching the Trojans offense and defense during practice, the kickers were off in their own little world – as is often the case – holding a field goal competition.

The winner made his debut on Saturday against Syracuse. Walk on freshman Alex Wood won the job. Wood went 6-for-6 on point after attempts and is now listed as the co-starter for Saturday's matchup against Stanford.

Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News is reporting that Heidari had surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and will be sidelined for about three weeks. Kiffin does not discuss injuries and USC's new media policy this fall is to not report on injuries and statuses seen at practice.

Football Recruiting
USC 2012 commit Darreus Rogers may be good to go for the Trojans this season, after all. Rogers tweeted Thursday afternoon that he was finally cleared by the NCAA. Kiffin has yet to comment on the latest news.

The Trojans trip to the east coast certainly didn't help to broaden their national recruiting cause. "It's great to go out there," Kiffin said prior to the trip. "We're fortunate at SC to be on a lot of national games, so we get a lot of exposure but I think it's more exciting for our fans and parents to go to a different place, a NFL stadium." USC verbal commits at the game included 2015 quarterback David Sills and 2013 defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow.

National Recruiting Analyst Greg Biggins reported that USC 2013 verbal commit Chris Hawkins will take an official visit to Notre Dame for the Irish game against Stanford. Biggins says the cornerback is still very solid on his commitment to USC.

Basketball Recruiting:
Contributed by West Coast Basketball Recruiting Analyst Josh Gershon

With three commitments on the board in 2013, all from guards and forwards, the USC coaching staff has been seriously pursuing true posts to complete its recruiting class.

Prospects still being recruiting include center Tommy Hamilton from Chicago, Nevada power forwards Gavin Schilling and Fallou Ndoye as well as Florida post Nikola Jovanovic.

It wouldn't be a surprise if USC didn't take too long to add to its 2013 class.

Look for Sept. 22 to be the Trojans' next big recruiting weekend. So far commits Kendal Harris and Kahlil Dukes are locked in for officials, and there could be at least one other official visitor in attendance.

Of course, USC had a huge weekend on campus for the football season opener against Hawaii, when Isaac Hamilton, Daniel Hamilton, Tyler Dorsey, Stanley Johnson, Gavin Schilling and Kameron Chatman were all on campus for unofficial visits, while Roschon Prince and Julian Jacobs officially visited.

USC will do an in-home visit with Sacramento forward Dakarai Allen this week, but the Trojans are a longshot. It's pretty likely that Allen ends up at San Diego State.

Another thing to watch will be if USC holds on to a ride heading into the season, attempting to land a mid-season transfer, something the Trojans have had a lot of success doing in the past couple of years. That's definitely a scenario that we can see materializing.

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