No. 13 USC improved to 3-1 on the season after defeating California 27-9 on Saturday.
And that's enough for Coach Lane Kiffin.
He doesn't care that quarterback Matt Barkley only threw for 192 yards, completing 22-of-34 passes, two touchdowns – equaled by two interceptions. It doesn't openly bother him that receiver Robert Woods' numbers from 2011 are down, Woods only had five receptions for 94 yards against the Bears.
"I told myself this offseason, that I'm not going to worry about (stats)," Kiffin said on Sunday night's teleconference with reporters. "It's not about getting numbers for certain guys, or Heisman races or records. It's about doing the best thing to win."
Kiffin, as he often has throughout the season, referred to the conversation he had over the summer with Tim Tebow, saying the Heisman winner said his senior season at Florida wasn't enjoyable because of the pressure on his team to play perfect. "After a game where they win by ten everybody would be down on them," Kiffin explained, referring to the Gators, "so by me changing my expectations I think that's helping our kids."
"These articles are all wanting to point out what they didn't do in a game," Kiffin said of the stories being published about his team. "You're playing a conference game and you win by three scores and ‘what didn't we do,' so we're trying to really manage that and not let all of the stuff they are hearing outside affect them and that starts with me."
"Matt Played Really Well"
If there is any player in particular Kiffin is trying to take the pressure off, it has to be his quarterback.
Matt Barkley, who notably gave up NFL riches to return for "Unfinished Business" isn't exactly having the storybook season that it was dreamt to be in the offseason.
He has thrown four interceptions over the past two games. Though Kiffin faulted him for the two bad decisions at Stanford, he says at least one of the picks against Cal wasn't his fault. The tipped pass picked off by a Cal linebacker resulted from a USC tailback missing a block. The other interception was miscommunication between Woods and Barkley, however Kiffin says "defensive players are on scholarship, too."
Nine and Two Defense
The Trojans continue to face unique challenges this season, especially when it comes to the opposition's defense.
Kiffin says he hopes people realize what is going on in the game, as teams continue to adjust their defenses to cover receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Teams are showing up on Saturday's with coverage and schemes the Trojans don't see on film.
"Our numbers aren't as big as we're used to," Kiffin said. "That's not because of (Lee and Woods) not playing that well, it's about the defense trying to take them away."
Lee finished Saturday with 11 receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns against Cal.
What If Markowitz…
Fifth-year senior Abe Markowitz started at left guard in place of Marcus Martin before having to shift a spot to take over for Khaled Holmes, who once again had to leave the game after appearing to reinjure his ankle.
Markowitz "played great" according to Kiffin, prompting him to wonder what it would have been like if the senior would have been available to play against Stanford.
"(He did a) really good job with pad leverage, especially in the run game," he said. "It was great to see."
Kiffin says he is confident playing Markowitz at all three spots on the line, noting that the senior can be found putting in long hours studying film in the linemen's meeting room.
"Credit to Abe," Kiffin said. "I walked by the offensive line meeting room at 10pm the other night, that's pretty late considering these guys are here at 5:30 in the morning to start their days, and he's in there by himself watching film."
Battle Rages…or, Just Continues On
It was an open competition at left tackle all week between starter Aundrey Walker and freshman Max Tuerk after Kiffin noted an unacceptable lack of effort on Walker's part against Stanford.
Walker got the start against Cal, but the two split series throughout the first half before Walker took over after the break.
"I thought Aundrey played his best of the year," Kiffin said. "(He) really responded to his partial demotion."
Despite Walker's response, the competition will continue this week at practice. "Max actually did some good things," he said of the freshman. "He made some mistakes… but that stuff is going to happen with all of your true freshmen no matter who they are."
Kiffin announced a couple of season ending injuries on Sunday. Freshman linebacker Scott Starr is out for the remainder of the season with a neck issue. Starr is able to apply for a medical redshirt since he played in fewer than 30 percent of USC's game this season, with his injury coming before the Cal game. Starr was listed as Lamar Dawson's backup at middle linebacker on the depth chart. RS Junior David Garness is also out for the remainder of the season after having back surgery.
Asked about the status of receiver George Farmer, who has spent the last two games sidelined, Kiffin said Farmer was not medically cleared to go on Saturday but that he is hoping for a return this week.
No update was given on the status of center Khaled Holmes, who appeared to reinjure his right ankle during the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.
Sophomore placekicker Andre Heidari returned to action for USC on Saturday after missing a few weeks due to surgery on his knee. "We knew going into this game that he was going to kick in the game," Kiffin said on Sunday. "Obviously he did well." Heidari hit both 40 and 41-yard field goal attempts and chipped in three PATs.
Add two more sacks to Saturday's game for USC, bringing the total number of takedowns to nine. That's the most sacks since USC played Oregon State in 2007, when they tallied the same number.
The Trojans now have a bye week after playing two games at home and two on the road. Kiffin says they will focus on getting healthy and hopefully will get a few guys back to action. He says he believes his team is "very mentally and physically tired" because of fall camp, the start of school, back to back road trips – including what he called "the debacle at Stanford." No. 13 USC will be back to action a week from Thursday playing at Utah.