Kiffin confirmed he will call plays in 2013 and went into detail about why it will be important for this team to run the football. Lee talked about self-motivation while both Lee and Kiffin gave a lot of praise for Nelson Agholor. Finally, Pullard talked about the 5-2 defense and leadership.
Running it up
Kiffin was asked about a statement he made about the 2012 season turning against Arizona when a Matt Barkley pass missed an open Robert Woods. He used that as an example of how the Trojans can close out games better with a consistent running attack.
“We were 6-1 at that time against Arizona and we were in command of that game, up 15 with the ball,” Kiffin said. “Their crowd was starting to leave, and we were going to be coming back to play Oregon in a big game but we missed that play and a bunch of plays the rest of the game there.
“I hope that as we get to this season here that we are more consistent in our running game so that when we get to games like that, like we have over the years, that we're able to finish those games out especially on the road like that by running the ball and being more physical. That's been a big emphasis this spring, and obviously it will be a big emphasis as we move into next week.”
Madden's in the game
One of the storylines not many people are talking about with the Trojans this year is that Tre Madden will be back in action after tearing a knee ligament and missing 2012.
“Tre Madden has come along, he's going to be at 100 percent healthy,” Kiffin said. “That was probably an injury that was under the radar a year ago when it happened. But us as coaches knew that was a significant injury for our team at that time. Tre was having as good of a spring as anyone on our entire roster after moving him to running back, a kid that's 6-foot tall, 220 pounds and runs a 4.5, we have not had that for a while here.
“We feel like with the entire running back group and the fact that Tre is healthy, we have that position back to where it was in that 2004, 2005 range and as you break down the last seven years here at USC, that position has not been what it once was.”
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Trojans turned the ball over 34 times in 2012, which was the fourth most in the FBS. USC also converted on just 31 percent of third downs, which ranked No. 105 in the country. Kiffin addressed both of those issues.
“As we look at where we need to improve, it’s not some things that maybe you guys think,” Kiffin said. “It's things that we believe within our program are very easy to look at with what happened last year. It's about not turning the football over, it's about playing better on third down and it's about playing better in the red zone.”
Motivation for Marqise
As the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner as the nation's best receiver, Lee has already achieved success that most receivers can only dream about. But he makes it clear that staying motivated in not a problem.
“Me, as a player, I don't go into seasons focused on the hype and things that come along with it,” Lee said. “The Heisman, the Biletnikoff, whatever you want to talk about, is the last thing in my mind. I'm self-motivated, and I've pushed the issue. You can ask Hayes (Pullard). I'm self-motivated because the coach can motivate you, but you should be able to motivate yourself.
“At the end of the day, I feel like the coach is there to motivate you but, then again, how about if it doesn't hit the spot to get a player to keep going? So I take it upon myself, you know, to continue to work hard. I know if I do it they're going to do it and if they're going to do it, why shouldn't I do it? It's only going to get you better and get you where you need to go so that's what I'm going to do in order to get it.”
Next in line
Lee will be playing for the first time without Robert Woods, something that hasn’t happened since high school. He made it clear that he thinks Agholor has the ability to step up and be the next great USC receiver.
“Robert overall was a great player, but we have one player, Nelson Agholor. I think I can look over and look at him being Rob,” Lee said. “He does an amazing job in class, both on and off the field. I think Nelson stepped in Rob's shoes and fulfilled them as good as possible, so I think we will be all right.”
“As Marqise mentioned, the development of Agholor, we saw it this spring,” Kiffin added. “Marqise missed some time during the spring, so not only did we see Nelson perform as the No. 2 receiver, he was also performing as the No. 1 receiver. He's a player with a skill set and he's a unique kid, very exciting and active on the field, and he's a great leader already, even though he has just finished up his first year.”
On the new 5-2 defense: “It's been a great transition. Pendergast brings that swagger that's been great for us, with the help of Coach Orgeron and Coach Ekeler being great coaches; they simplified this defense for us guys to go out there and just play fast and play to the best of our ability. I believe we're going to continue to get better.”
On being a leader: “My freshman year, T.J (McDonald) told me to lead by example, and that's the leadership role I've been trying to take on. He took me under his wing when I was the pup that I was and at this moment, it's me trying to groom other leaders. So when I get my two years over at USC and when I leave, I have leaders that are going to take up what I showed them as well and have that carry on.”