The Trojans hit the field on Tuesday to prepare for their Pac-12 opener at Stanford this Saturday, and while much of the media attention has focused on USC’s three-game losing streak to the Cardinal -- in particular last season’s 56-48 triple overtime loss -- quarterback Matt Barkley commented afterward that the team is only focused on the task at hand.
“We’re just approaching every game the same,” Barkley said. “It’s the next game, it’s week three, we’re going up north -- an away game -- there’s nothing special about it.”
Trojans running back Curtis McNeal -- who turned the ball over with a fumble on USC’s final possession against Stanford last season -- echoed those sentiments.
“We’re going to prepare like we always do -- go up there, and stick to our game plan and play Trojan football,” said McNeal. “We’re not worried about the hype or that they’ve beat us the last few years. The only thing we’re worried about is the game this Saturday.”
Before practice, that no-nonsense attitude was immediately apparent, as defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin brought the defense together for some spirited words.
Judging by the individual linebacker drill that followed, whatever was said definitely had an effect. The pads were popping and there were some big hits in a one-on-one drill that pitted a linebacker against a scout team running back. Hayes Pullard was the star of the session, with strong plays also made by Lamar Dawson, Anthony Sarao and Simione Vehikite.
The receivers and defensive backs then came together for a one-on-one session that was extremely competitive. Some of the highlights were as follows:
• Barkley started things off with a quick completion to De’Von Flournoy with coverage by Nickell Robey.
• Lee made a reception over the middle against Robey on a pass by Barkley.
• Robey picked off a Barkley pass intended for Lee.
• Barkley hit Lee on a pass that Robey made a break on to try to make another interception but missed.
• Kessler attempted a pass to Flournoy, but Seymour was there once again to break it up.
After a lengthy 11-on-11 period that pitted the starters against the scout team, the offense and defense came together for some 7-on-7 work. Here are some highlights:
• Lee made a fantastic leaping grab on a Matt Barkley pass over the middle, showing off that jumping ability that’s also made him a successful long jumper on the Trojans’ track team.
• Barkley hit McNeal, but he was stopped for a minimal gain by Pullard.
• Telfer hauled in the Barkley pass before being tackled by Robey.
• Lee made another reception on a Barkley pass before a Sarao stop.
Then it was time for the final 11-on-11 period of the day. It was a shorter session than usual, but there were still plenty of highlight plays:
• McNeal found a hole and gained 7 or 8 yards before Starling was able to wrap him up.
• Barkley delivered to Lee, who made the grab just over the outstretched hands of Dawson.
• Lee made another reception on a Barkley pass.
• Flournoy made the catch on a Barkley pass before being stopped by Starling.
• McNeal with the carry, but he’s stopped for a short gain by Christian Heyward and a host of Trojans.
• Seymour breaks up a Barkley pass along the sideline intended for Lee.
• Wittek throws for Blackwell, but Ryan Dillard tips it away.
• Wittek hit Flournoy for a nice gain against Brian Baucham.
Selected post-practice quotes from Kiffin:
On facing Stanford and how it might be different without Andrew Luck:
“Well, I think you’re not going to be the same anytime you lose somebody that you talk about being one of the best prospects to ever come out. We know that they’ve seemed to lean on their running game, which is still really good -- two really good backs in there. An offensive line, even though they’ve had some guys leave, it’s still a really good offensive line. And they have a great front seven. They’re going to be tough all year long for everyone they play. Anytime you can run the ball really well, you have a quarterback who can take care of the ball and you can play really good defense, that’s a good recipe.”
On Stanford’s strengths on defense:
“Their front seven and how many looks they give you defensively. They’re really veteran if you look at their defense. They’ve been together a long time, especially the front seven -- most of them are in their last season. And they do a lot with them.”
On how the USC-Stanford game became a rivalry:
“It became a rivalry by Stanford playing really good -- Jim [Harbaugh] started that. It wasn’t much of a rivalry for a long time and Jim came in and brought a tough, aggressive style to what they were doing in all three phases of the game, and it’s been carried on.”