The Trojans were back on Brian Kennedy/Howard Jones Field on Sunday for a late-morning practice that coach Lane Kiffin said was marked by defensive intensity -- a welcome sight with a Pac-12 South Division matchup with Utah coming up on Thursday.
"I thought the defense really practiced well today," he said. "[I] thought they really came out -- especially the defensive front -- really physical, which is good to see, because any time you go on the road in a conference game, you're going to need that."
The offense had its positives as well, with the usual suspects doing their part to bring the somewhat struggling unit together.
"I thought the quarterback (Matt Barkley) and 9 (Marqise Lee) and 2 (Robert Woods) have really had two great days -- if you go back to our last practice and this one -- of really trying to set the tempo for everybody around them," he said.
Getting Woods on track
Speaking of Woods, it's safe to say this season hasn't gone quite as planned for the 2011 All-American, who had only five receptions for 30 yards in the Trojans' last game against Cal. Defenses have modified their coverage schemes in order to contain the talented wideout. On top of that, Woods might be affected by the fact that he still isn't practicing full time.
"I think any time that a guy never really practices a full week, which he doesn't -- there's always a day that we have to give him off -- it's going to affect you," Kiffin said. "Teams have done a good job of taking him away. Even though his numbers aren't as big as they have been before, teams are still game-planning for these two receivers. Hopefully for the passing game, the defenses change. If not, then games will go like they did last week."
Kiffin, of course, was referring to the 296 rushing yards the Trojans racked up against Cal.
Walker and Tuerk still battling
The left tackle position was opened up for competition just after the Trojans' loss to Stanford, and while Aundrey Walker received the majority of the snaps over freshman Max Tuerk against Cal, Kiffin revealed that the competition is still open.
"Aundrey [Walker], as we taked about, played his best game by far last week," he said. "But we opened it up again this week, and we split the reps right down the middle. We haven't made a decision on the game yet."
The SC Factor
While Utah is coming off a 37-7 thrashing at the hands of Arizona State, Kiffin believes the Utes will be a different team on Thursday, coming in focused and driven, in part because of what he referred to as the "SC factor." It's a term he uses to describe the extra motivation teams have when they face the Trojans.
"When you go into somebody else's place, it's going to be their biggest game of the year, and they're going to be up for it," he said. "And just in the Pac-12 media days, how many Salt Lake radio stations were down here, and it was the first thing they said: 'This is going to be the biggest game in the history of the school.' "
Barkley echoed his coach's sentiments.
"A lot of teams that we play get super hyped up to play us," he said. "We realize that, so we're not taking them lightly. They have a very, very solid defense, so it's going to be a big game for them and their fans."
Facing a star
The Utah defense features tackle Star Lotulelei, a potential top-five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Presenting a very real challenge to a USC offensive line that has struggled at times in 2012, Kiffin said he is particularly impressed with the 6-foot-4, 320-pound player's development over the course of the past year.
"I think that he's really improved," he said. "You get caught up watching last year to this year -- he's a different guy. He was a really good player last year, obviously, but it looks like he's trimmed down, he's stronger and he's quicker. And he's in better shape and he can take over games if you allow him to."
With six Pac-12 teams now ranked in the AP Top 25, the conference has revealed itself to be much more competitive than anyone imagined at the beginning of the season. And it's something that Kiffin partly attributes to recruiting.
"I think that's a result of us just not nailing it in recruiting over the last five years," he said. "You know, players getting away in this conference. And that's been our goal, to stop that. And also, once we get our numbers back to where we're allowed to just sign more, I think that will help, as well."