USC remains undecided on starting tailback

With just over a week before USC opens against Minnesota at the Coliseum, the Trojans apparently are still searching for a starting tailback.

Junior Curtis McNeal started the last two scrimmages but left both early because of injuries, raising questions of durability.

Redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan has flashed speed and some breakaway ability but must gain the trust of coaches with pass-protection skills.

Freshman Amir Carlisle has impressed with his toughness, though he too has never played in a college game.

Meanwhile, Dillon Baxter is eager to ascend back to the top of the depth chart.

With Marc Tyler suspended for the opener, and possibly longer, Baxter is the Trojans’ most experienced tailback. The sophomore from San Diego put together what appeared to be some of the best practices of his short career before last week’s scrimmage.


But he was the third tailback in the rotation and averaged only three yards per carry.

“I kind of got down on myself because they put me with the third team,” Baxter said this week. “I should have picked up the team and just played hard.

“Maybe it was a test or maybe that’s where they wanted me, but I should have responded way different. I’m ready to bounce back from it and keep playing hard.”

Asked Wednesday where Baxter was on the depth chart, USC Coach Lane Kiffin said, “We don’t have one right now, especially at that position. They’re just mixed in there and he’s still plugging away.”

In reserve

If Max Wittek was disappointed that coaches picked Cody Kessler as the No. 2 quarterback, he’s not showing it.

“The reason I came to USC is to be the starting quarterback,” Wittek said. “I don’t think this is going to change my drive, my dedication or that same goal. I came here for that reason and plan to achieve that goal.”

Kiffin has said that, ideally, he would like to redshirt both Kessler and Wittek.

But redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins is injured and Kessler, a freshman from Bakersfield, has performed consistently well in scrimmages.

Kessler said he would be ready if called upon.

“You’re one snap away,” he said. “It’s another big responsibility, but it’s more like an opportunity.”

Quick hits

The Trojans began installing their game plan for Minnesota…. Freshman Marcus Martin worked with the first-team offense at left guard…. Freshman defensive lineman Antwaun Woods returned to practice after being cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Freshman defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. remained absent because his certification is still under review, Kiffin said.