USC’s football team will not be distracted by allegations involving former Trojans running back Joe McKnight that could have ramifications with the NCAA, Coach Lane Kiffin said Sunday.
The Times reported Saturday that Scott Schenter, a key figure in the ongoing corruption scandal at the Los Angeles County assessor’s office, said he gave cash and perks worth thousands of dollars to McKnight and former Trojans basketball player Davon Jefferson while they were still in school. The report was first published online and then in Sunday’s newspaper.
After The Times asked about the alleged payments, USC Athletic Director Pat Haden said the school immediately informed the NCAA about the claims. After the report was published, Haden released a statement that said, “We will thoroughly investigate them and take any and all necessary actions.”
Kiffin, in his third season as head coach, said he was aware of the report before top-ranked USC defeated Hawaii, 49-10, in its season opener. The Trojans were “completely focused on the game,” he said, and would be again this week as they prepare to play Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J.
“It’s not even registering with us, as far as this football team and what we’re doing,” Kiffin said, during a teleconference, of the McKnight situation.
McKnight played for USC from 2007 to 2009. The NCAA has a four-year statute of limitations on rule violations.
USC is on NCAA probation for violations related to former Trojans running back Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo. Penalties handed down in 2010 included a two-year bowl ban and the loss of scholarships.
USC investigated McKnight and Schenter’s relationships in 2009, after the player was seen driving a $27,000 Land Rover registered to Schenter. Haden said the school turned its findings over to the NCAA, which did not process a violation.
McKnight left USC with a year of eligibility remaining and was selected in the 2010 NFL draft.
The Times obtained Schenter’s county work emails from the assessor’s office under the California Public Records Act. A May 2008 email from Delta Air Lines to Schenter includes a receipt for his purchase of a $625 flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans. The listed passenger: “Joe McKnight.” Schenter also told The Times that he gave McKnight a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, which was referenced in a 2009 email from an automobile insurance agent.
Tale of two lines
Kiffin was happy with the play of the young defensive line but not satisfied with the performance of a mostly experienced offensive line.
Defensive tackles Antwaun Woods, Christian Heyward and Leonard Williams and ends Morgan Breslin and Greg Townsend Jr., all made plays in their first games alongside sophomore tackle George Uko and end J.R. Tavai.
“That was good to see,” Kiffin said.
The offensive line did not give up a sack, but Kiffin described it as “inconsistent.”
Quarterback Matt Barkley “saved us from a couple sacks,” Kiffin said, “and I know after meeting with them today they’re ready to play better.”
Sophomore left tackle Aundrey Walker, the only new starter, “wasn’t perfect” but avoided multiple false-start penalties and other miscues common to many first-time starters, Kiffin said.
USC passed for 394 yards but averaged only 3.5 yards per carry while rushing for 81. “Not the balance we’re looking for,” Kiffin said. ... Freshman Nelson Agholor was the No. 3 receiver against Hawaii because “he had a great end of camp and really came along with knowledge of the offense,” Kiffin said. Agholor caught one pass for six yards.