Practice report: Trojans prepare for Oregon

LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans were back at work on Tuesday morning in full pads as they began their prep work for No. 4 Oregon. And while USC head coach Lane Kiffin admitted that this past weekend’s 39-36 loss to Arizona is still likely sitting in the back of many of the players’ minds, it’s important that the team moves forward and maintains focus on the task at hand.

“You’ve got to get over it,” Kiffin said. “I think it would be na├»ve to think that the game is completely out of sight, out of mind. For those really competitive players, there’s still a play in there where they’re going to think about it for a long time. That should be natural, but we have no time to look back. We have the best team in the country coming in here Saturday.”

The best?

Kiffin has referred to Oregon as the best team in the nation on more than a few occasions this season, and as he explained on Tuesday, a big reason why has been the standout play of freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“I think when you look at them, they’re the best they’ve ever been themselves, as well as in all of the years we’ve been here,” Kiffin said. “And I think the quarterback’s the difference. Two things really, the quarterback’s speed -- [he’s] faster than the other two guys who’ve been there -- and then the defense is playing so well.”

Mariota, who has passed for 1,483 yards and rushed for 378 more on the ground, is a true dual-threat playmaker who presents a unique challenge to the Trojans. Just as capable of hurting a defense through the air as he is with his feet, there’s simply no easy way to defend him.

“When he gets in the open field he just runs away from people, so you’ve got to do a good job with the first guy tackling him, keeping him in front of you and not giving him those big lanes where he can really make the big plays happen,” Kiffin said. “And then, you know, people then obviously at some point commit so much to the run and to the play-action that it opens up the guys downfield, and he can make those throws too.”

The “Black Mamba” heading home

Running back extraordinaire De'Anthony Thomas -- who spurned the Trojans on national signing day 2011 to sign with the Ducks coming out of Los Angeles Crenshaw -- will play in the Coliseum on Saturday for the first time in his collegiate career. One of the country’s most exciting game breakers, he averages 8.6 yards per carry out of the backfield, and he’s just as prolific on special teams, averaging 18.3 yards per punt return -- the No. 3 mark in the nation. Kiffin said that he see’s some parallels between the talents of Thomas and the Trojans’ own Marqise Lee.

“Last year [Thomas] was as explosive as anybody in the country and he’s maybe a little more confident [now] by the way he goes after the punts, he fields almost everything no matter where it is. He plays with a lot of confidence. Very similar players -- very different body, but very similar players -- him and Marqise [Lee] I think.”

More on penalties

Already the most penalized team in college football heading into the game against Arizona, the Trojans continued their run of undisciplined play against the Wildcats, collecting 13 more penalties for 117 yards. Kiffin, who had the entire team view a reel of every major penalty from the current season on Sunday, has grown increasingly frustrated at the team’s inability to correct the issue.

“I’m completely shocked that we’d still be having these conversations at this point in the year,” Kiffin said. “Sometimes you have them in the first couple of weeks with newer players or guys making mistakes, but to see the same ones repeat over and over is really disappointing, and it cost us the game.”

No room for a doghouse

With both Silas Redd and D.J. Morgan turning the ball over on fumbles against the Wildcats, Kiffin said that the costly turnovers by the Trojans’ running backs were more than a mild concern. With the shortened roster due to NCAA sanctions, however, don’t expect either player to automatically see a decrease in playing time -- a common occurrence in years’ past. It’s something that has also impacted the way that the Trojans’ coaches have been able to deal with penalty offenders.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about that this year, about the penalties and when the turnovers happen, and how we used to do it, and we’re kind of in the middle,” Kiffin said. “We do sometimes and sometimes there’s just no answer to go to. So we’re just working on it.”