The USC spirit is alive and well and ready for a big 2012 season, at least it was for one day at the Coliseum for the spring game.
There was a genuine sense of excitement Saturday, as a large crowd of more than 15,000 gathered in the Grey Lady to get a glimpse of the Cardinal and Gold in action. It was the first public look at the team this spring -- as all USC practices are closed these days -- and the fans soaked up every second of the game-day atmosphere.
There were early morning tailgates, the Trojan Marching Band, the Song Girls and a sideline full of USC legends from Ronnie Lott to Marcus Allen and Anthony Munoz. Most of all, however, the fans were there to see Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald and the rest of their Trojans in action.
To be completely honest, it wasn't the crispest of scrimmages, from a pure football standpoint. There were moments where the offense flashed, but for the most part it was a day for the defense, even if there was no actual tackling involved.
Hayes Pullard and Anthony Brown led the way for the defense with six tackles each. Drew McAllister and Brian Baucham each had an interception, Isiah Wiley had five pass deflections, and there were three sacks (Devon Kennard, Greg Townsend and Morgan Breslin).
For the offense, there were big plays from D.J. Morgan -- a 47-yard touchdown run -- and Soma Vainuku, who caught a pass from Cody Kessler and raced 44 yards for a score. Barkley saw more action than anticipated and ended up completing 23 of 39 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.
More than any statistics, this day was a showcase for the Trojans program. Back once again from the NCAA brink and eligible for postseason play, there is a genuine buzz surrounding the team once again that hasn’t been found in recent spring games. Blame it on a sense of entitlement during the end of the Pete Carroll era, or a sanction-inspired haze in the past two years, but there was definitely something upbeat about the day that was refreshing to see.
Even the former players commented on it. Allen -- the 1981 Heisman Trophy winning tailback -- said he could not remember playing in front of any kind of crowds for a spring game, much less one that filled up several sections on the visitors side of the Coliseum. And then there was the mad dash for autographs at the end. The lines were long as the fans waited to get photos and signatures from the Trojans after the scrimmage was over, and they hustled to be the first in line for their favorite player or coach.
The final image from the day was the line of 30 people waiting in the end zone for head coach Lane Kiffin after all the players and other fans had left. It was 90 minutes after the scrimmage had ended, but Kiffin was smiling and signing until the last Trojans fan was satisfied. A lot of fans went home satisfied today, they saw their team in action and it gave them a taste of what is possible in the fall. Now the hard part comes, with the four-month wait before the season actually starts.