USC must regain focus as it prepares to face rival UCLA
A USC team still reeling from its loss to Notre Dame turns its attention now to the season finale against rival UCLA.
But will the Trojans be able to refocus after a 20-16 defeat ended their eight-game winning streak against the Fighting Irish?
Coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged Sunday that he was concerned.
“I just think that none of them ever imagined that we were going to lose this game,” Kiffin said, adding, “It’s been very heartbreaking for these players.”
A victory over the struggling Bruins would improve USC’s record to 8-5. A loss would drop the Trojans to 7-6.
“Obviously, that’s well below our standard,” Kiffin said of either scenario. “We’re extremely disappointed.”
Kiffin said he thought the Trojans’ Nov. 13 victory at Arizona would be “one of those jump-start games” that would propel the Trojans to a strong finish.
“I was 100% confident that were going to be 10-3 at the end of the season and we’d hit the road and sign a great recruiting class,” he said.
Instead, the Trojans got routed by Oregon State and lost to Notre Dame.
No one felt worse about Saturday’s loss than senior receiver Ronald Johnson, who dropped a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Mitch Mustain late in the fourth quarter.
Kiffin said Johnson was “a wreck” after the game.
“He just felt he let so many people down,” Kiffin said. “A lot of that’s my fault in the buildup of the week, of talking to these guys about all the great players and fans they represented.
“I think he felt that weight on his shoulders, and so it’s just been very tough on him.”
USC’s quarterback situation for Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl is uncertain.
Matt Barkley, sidelined against Notre Dame because of a high ankle sprain, continued rehab treatments Sunday.
“Obviously, we hope Matt plays,” Kiffin said. “He’s anticipating playing.”
Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Trojans must find a way to avoid giving up another late scoring drive.
“We’ve probably set a record for the worst two-minute defense, not just this year, but in the history of college football,” Kiffin said.
Injuries suffered by safety T.J. McDonald (shoulder) and cornerback Brian Baucham (shoulder) could leave the Trojans’ secondary even thinner against UCLA. Walk-on Tony Burnett replaced McDonald after the first series against Notre Dame and finished with 10 tackles. Kiffin said freshman Demetrius Wright was more accustomed to playing the other safety spot and would have played if needed…. The Trojans are off Monday and resume practice Tuesday.