LOS ANGELES -- It was another beautiful day on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones field on Tuesday as the team prepared to take on Syracuse and its explosive quarterback, Ryan Nassib, on Saturday. Right from the get-go, defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders could be heard emphatically explaining to his unit that Syracuse threw the ball more than 60 times in its last game, so the Trojans DBs had better be ready. It was a common theme on the day that Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff made sure to hammer home to the defense.
“We wanted to make sure that our guys understand that we’re going to play a really good team,” Kiffin said. “We purposely made sure that we attacked them in the passing game. I totally believe that this is a big-time test. I don’t care who you play or where it’s at -- everybody played a football game on Saturday and nobody threw for more yards than they did. This is a really good quarterback and he started really well last year versus us.”
In an early 7-on-7 session the defense seemed to respond, as Jawanza Starling grabbed an impressive interception while Anthony Sarao made a nice play to break up a pass. The defensive line was one of the standout units against Hawaii, and one could see why when watching their individual drills Tuesday. George Uko moved fast and with agility in the bag drills, while Leonard Williams, who at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, is just so quick for a player his size. It might not have been apparent before the season, but this group looks to be in good hands.
Kiffin spent some extensive time today working with receivers and quarterbacks, and we even saw some one-on-one match-ups that produced some of the following highlights:
• Barkley connected with Robert Woods, who was defended by Baucham.
• Nelson Agholor made the deep reception over Brown on a Wittek pass.
Then there was a quick 7-on-7 session with the first team offense and defense that featured a fantastic Woods catch right over Brown, a Blackwell reception versus Brown and a Barkley pass to Blackwell where the wideout made a shoestring catch.
The day ended with 11-on-11 work once again, highlighted by the following:
• Barkley found Lee for a nice gain right off the bat.
• Kevin Greene showed some athleticism, sprinting out to stop Woods for a minimal gain after a short toss from Wittek.
• Kessler went deep and connected with Lee for a highlight play over Baucham.
• Barkley hit Lee just in front of Robey.
• Williams stopped McNeal after a short gain.
• Brown made a nice effort to break up a Barkley pass intended for McNeal.
• Wittek connected with Flournoy just behind Tony Burnett.
• Sarao batted down a Wittek pass attempt.
• Scott Starr tackled Redd for a loss.
• Redd bounces a run outside and makes a nice gain of 20 yards or so before the Drew McAllister tackle.
Selected Kiffin post-practice quotes:
On preventing the team for taking anything for granted: “Every year is a new year, so we have to make sure our guys don’t think they’re better than they are just because they were ahead 35-0 at halftime. We’re going on the road, a place we’ve never been before against a very good team.”
What they need to do to improve the running game: “We need to play better up front. There were a couple of holes that we were late on, and we need to coach better too.”
On whether the team is distracted by the Joe McKnight allegations: “I don’t even know if they know about them. It has nothing to do with them. We don’t even discuss it.”
On facing the Syracuse up-tempo offense: “We’re practicing it, we’re working on it. We had a very hard practice today and we will tomorrow. Most of our guys only played about 40 snaps. Their defense played 105 snaps. There’s good and bad to that. Sometimes you’re worn out, but you’re also conditioned for it, so that’s why we’re trying to practice so hard.”