USC’s next game is not until Oct. 13, so the Trojans won’t spend a lot of time this week preparing for California. Instead, when the Trojans resume practice Tuesday, they will turn inward.
“The next couple days will be all about us, about making sure we’re improving and we’re figuring out our deficiencies and getting better at those,” Coach Lane Kiffin said Monday.
The biggest deficiency has been the defense.
Two weeks ago, an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Arizona State helped the Sun Devils score 43 points against the Trojans. Arizona’s offense needed no such help to score 41 last Saturday at the Coliseum.
USC gave up 554 yards and 37 first downs against an Arizona team that ranks third among 120 major-college teams in passing offense.
USC (4-1) has given up an average of 379 total yards a game, which ranks 67th nationally. As bad as that looks, the Trojans are giving up fewer yards than No. 6 Oklahoma State (428 yards per game), No. 9 Oregon (389.5), No. 10 Arkansas (388.4) and No. 15 Auburn (439.8).
Kiffin said he would avoid the urge to spend more time than usual trying to correct the Trojans’ defensive problems during off-week practices.
“You’ve got to be careful doing that — it can really screw you up,” Kiffin said Sunday during a teleconference with reporters. “I did a little bit of that last year where I was doing too much and gearing our practices toward our defense…. It probably took away from our offense a little bit and down the stretch on offense we did not play as well as we did earlier in the year.”
During much of the Pete Carroll era, USC used off weeks to allow starters to rest and heal nagging injuries. Younger players, particularly quarterbacks and linemen, had increased opportunities.
That won’t be the case this week.
“We’re not in the same position as … we were with Pete,” Kiffin said. “We’ve got to go with young guys because everything else was figured out at that point. We were playing great on offense and defense and we knew who our frontline guys were.
“We weren’t playing as many young guys back then.”
In an offense that appears at times to be overly reliant on receiver Robert Woods, tight end Xavier Grimble is becoming a valuable option.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Grimble, a redshirt freshman from Las Vegas, has caught three passes for touchdowns, including one on a crossing pattern in the back of the end zone against Arizona.
Grimble made the catch despite his vision being screened by the hands of Arizona defenders.
“I had to really focus and look just to see it come in,” Grimble said. “That’s all part of being a tight end. You’ve got to be able to get in the red zone, get past linebackers, get physical with the safeties and make catches.”
Quarterback Matt Barkley, who established school single-game records with 468 yards passing and 470 yards in total offense in USC’s 48-41 victory over Arizona, was selected Pacific 12 Conference offensive player of the week. Barkley has completed 71% of his passes this season. He has 14 touchdowns with four interceptions.