When USC coach Lane Kiffin abolished full contact practice for all but two sessions, it was to prevent injuries from decimating an already depleted roster.
By that measure, Saturday's scrimmage was all but a total success.
Apart from a concussion to walk-on safety Spencer Spiegel, the Trojans left Howard Jones Field as healthy as they arrived.
"The best part about our preseason game was only one player coming out during the scrimmage. Obviously that's been a concern of ours all camp," Kiffin said.
Several frontline players, including fullback Stanley Havili, wide receiver Ronald Johnson and linebacker Malcolm Smith, played just a few series or were held out entirely.
But even with such precautions, the starting defense again shut down quarterback Matt Barkley and the first-unit offense, which managed just a 32-yard Joe Houston field goal when the ones were matched up.
Redshirt senior Mitch Mustain edged Barkley in the numbers game, completing 12 of 19 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but the starter said it wasn't a concern.
"I'm not disappointed with stats, more so disappointed with production and how I play and just making the most of every opportunity," said Barkley, who threw for 116 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
When asked to grade Barkley's performance this fall, Kiffin said "his scrimmages have probably been Bs, his practices have been As."
Sacks, penalties and other negative plays again derailed what momentum the starters could muster.
"It seems like they do some good things, then too many negative plays," Kiffin said. "We've got to limit those. We just got to do things right and more consistent."
The brightest signs from the afternoon were the resurgent rushing attack, paced by a team-high 76 yards and a touchdown by Marc Tyler in spite of a groin injury he suffered Friday night, and strong performances by freshmen on both sides of the ball.
"I was pleased at times with the run game," Kiffin said. "That was good to see that get going, that was kind of the emphasis of the day."
USC finished with 226 yards on the ground and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Running back Allen Bradford rushed for 62 yards on nine attempts after finishing with negative yardage last Sunday.
New arrival Markeith Ambles had 83 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, while fellow receiver Robert Woods, running back Dillon Baxter and cornerback Nickell Robey all impressed.
Kiffin even compared Robey and Baxter for their versatility.
"He's kind of the defensive version of Dillon as far as he can do so many things for us," said Kiffin, citing Robey's skills on defense and in the return game. "I think he's going to be a really special player for us."
Still, the biggest concern for Kiffin remains the unknown given that USC will have only one more practice with full contact before its opener Sept. 2 at Hawaii.
"I don't think we'll know (what kind of team we have) until we start playing because of the limited live drills that we do," Kiffin said. "We're not really going to know what we have until we really start playing the games."
-LB Marquis Simmons is recovering well after undergoing an appendectomy Friday night, but Kiffin had no timetable for his return.
-Kiffin expressed concern at the available numbers at safety as Marshall Jones (groin) and Drew McAllister (hip) remain out.
"That is the wrong word, there is none," said Kiffin when asked about depth at that position. "We've got two safeties in our starters, then a couple true freshmen. Other than that nobody is really practicing back there. We're going to need those true freshmen to be ready to play."
-Houston handled all but one kick Sunday, converting on field goals of 32 and 43 yards.
"He's kind of taken the lead there," Kiffin said. "It was good to see today he made all the extra points and a couple of field goals. We're pleased with his progress right now."
Dillon Baxter rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)