Defense dominates USC scrimmage

LOS ANGELES - The Trojans held their second scrimmage of fall camp on Sunday at the Coliseum and it was definitely a performance that was dominated by the defense.

Suffice to say, this one will not go down in the offensive scrapbook with five turnovers (four interceptions and one fumble). The offense did score three touchdowns, but one of them came on a defensive miscue when a receiver was left uncovered on a red zone play.

“It was a really good day for the defense,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. “It was particularly important for the defense because the offense had gotten the better of them the past few days. It was good to see them get some turnovers because we had really made that an area of emphasis this off-season. On the flip side, it was disappointing to see the offense play like that.”

Kiffin used a format where live tackling was only used in the first half of the scrimmage and he held out many of his front-line starters until the second half. Many of the offensive players talked about how that threw them off their rhythm a bit, but all of them were quick to say “no excuses” about the way they played.

Things got started for the first-team offense -- with Matt Barkley at quarterback -- with Silas Redd taking a handoff on the opening play. He was met immediately by Kevon Seymour, who forced a fumble which was recovered by Antwaun Woods.

Barkley and company went three and out on their second series and they didn’t return again until the second half. One of the plays in that series featured a nice pass breakup by Seymour on an attempt to George Farmer.

Cody Kessler got the offense on the board early with a nice drive leading the second unit. When he got the ball inside the 5-yard line he tried a handoff to Soma Vainuku, but Tony Burnett made a good play to stuff it at the line. Kessler tried to hit Nelson Agholor in the end zone but Josh Shaw knocked it away. On the next play, Victor Blackwell was left uncovered to the left side and Kessler immediately fired it his way for the 1-yard score.

Max Wittek came in and hit Xavier Grimble down the middle on his first play for 20 yards against coverage from Gerald Bowman. Later on the drive, however, a Wittek pass attempt to Blackwell over the middle was tipped by Bowman and intercepted by Scott Starr.

Redd made one of the best runs of the day on the following drive when he headed left, escaped a tackle attempt at the ankles from Drew McAllister, reversed field to his right, where he avoided Jawanza Starling, and got the well-earned first down.

Wittek took over on the next drive deep in his end and he hit back-to-back throws to Agholor, then another one to Blackwell to get to midfield. After that, the defense stiffened. Jabari Ruffin made a strong tackle on Vainuku for no gain. Morgan Breslin got a good push on Zach Banner and forced an early throw from Wittek. Aundrey Walker had a false start. Starling had a hard hit on De’Von Flournoy as he went out of bounds and Flournoy was out for a few plays (he later came back in).

Kessler came in and immediately hit Blackwell over the middle for 20 yards, but then Ryan Henderson made a nice play to tackle Agholor behind the line on a quick hitch. A couple dropped passes in a row after that resulted in another loss of downs.

At that point the majority of the starters re-entered, and Barkley immediately hit Marqise Lee for a quick first down. Redd added a couple runs for another first down. Barkley hit Robert Woods for 17 yards and it looked like the offense might be picking up some steam, but then a Barkley pass was tipped at the line, which George Uko intercepted.

On his next drive, Barkley tried to hit Curtis McNeal out of the backfield, but Scott Starr was right there for the interception.

Kessler took over near midfield and had a nice scramble to his left for 15 yards and a first down. A few plays later D.J. Morgan took a handoff to the left and went 20 yards behind a nice block from Max Tuerk for a touchdown.

Barkley began a drive against the third-unit defense and -- as would be expected -- the offense was able to steadily move down the field but ultimately they were not able to get in the end zone. On a fourth down play in the red zone Barkley tried to hit Woods, but the ball was juggled as Woods was near the back of the end zone. He was ruled out of bounds, though most observers thought he was in. Replay would have been nice in that situation.

Wittek got his final drive started with a beautiful pass to Grimble up high for 30 yards against Nickell Robey but then missed a short throw to a wide-open Jahleel Pinner. His next attempt to Blackwell was intercepted by T.J. McDonald.

Barkley got into the end zone on his last drive with a pretty wheel route to Vainuku for a 25-yard score.

There was also a personal foul penalty during the scrimmage against Lee after he got tangled up with walk-on corner Ryan Dillard. Lee shoved Dillard for what he thought was aggressive coverage and he got flagged on the play. Lee apologized to Dillard and, later, to the whole team. Lee said Dillard had told him during practice that he was going to cover him like he was going to get covered in a game, Lee said he will not react that way again in a game or a practice. There were 11 penalties overall in the scrimmage.

The team wore their game uniforms, offense in cardinal and defense in white.

Here are some stats from the scrimmage:

Barkley: 9-19, 119 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Kessler: 3-8, 29 yards, 1 TD

Wittek: 6-16, 104 yards, 2 INT

Redd: 9 carries, 59 yards

Morgan: 7 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD

Buck Allen: 6 carries, 31 yards

McNeal: 5 carries, 23 yards

Woods: 4 catches, 67 yards

Blackwell: 3 catches, 39 yards, 1 TD

Agholor: 3 catches, 33 yards

Burnett: 4 tackles

Ruffin: 4 tackles, 1 TFL

Interceptions: Starr (2), Uko, McDonald


1st unit offense: QB - Barkley, TB - Redd, FB - Vainuku, WR - Flournoy, TE - Grimble, TE - Randall Telfer, LT - Walker, LG – Marcus Martin, C - Khaled Holmes, RG - John Martinez, RT - Nathan Guertler

1st unit defense: DE - Breslin, DT - Uko, NT - Woods, DE - Kevin Greene, LB - Anthony Sarao, LB - Hayes Pullard, LB - Burnett, CB - Seymour, CB - Anthony Brown, FS – McAllister, SS – Starling

2nd unit offense: QB - Kessler, TB - Morgan, FB - Pinner, WR - Blackwell, WR - Agholor, TE - Grimble, LT - Tuerk, LG - Abe Markowitz, C - Cyrus Hobbi, RG - Jeremy Galten, RT - Banner

2nd unit defense: DE - Michael Arakelian, DT - Leonard Williams, NT - Christian Heyward, DE - Jeff Miller, LB - Dallas Kelley, LB - Starr, LB - Ruffin, CB - Devian Shelton, CB - Henderson, FS - Bowman, SS - Demetrius Wright

Recruits in attendance: Chris Hawkins, Steven Mitchell, Max Redfield, Kylie Fitts and Nico Falah.