Defense shines on Tuesday

Lane Kiffin shot down any speculation that Marqise Lee would spend time on defense Tuesday. Kirby Lee/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans continued their prep work for Washington on Tuesday, hitting Dedeaux Field in a full-pads practice that USC head coach Lane Kiffin noted was highlighted by a strong defensive effort.

“I thought they had great energy today,” Kiffin said. “That’s three weeks in a row where we’ve had really good practices. I think our defense has really picked it up, and I think that’s showing up on Saturdays.”

Huskies tough at home

With a perfect record of 3-0 at CenturyLink Field in 2012, Washington has proven to be an extremely formidable opponent for teams to face at home, and something Kiffin is making sure that the Trojans prepare for this week.

“You go up there and the crowd and the stadium is extremely loud that they’re in, and they play better at home,” Kiffin said. “And so the concern for us is on offense, handling the crowd [and] playing with good composure. On defense, handling the quarterback ... he makes so many plays by running around -- out of rhythm plays, especially toward the end of last year and especially in the bowl game.”

But it’s safe to say that the Trojans know a thing or two about playing on the road. After all, the trip to Seattle marks the fourth time that the Trojans will have travelled in just six games this season. And having come through with an impressive victory in the team’s last contest away from home at Utah, Kiffin feels much better about the trip to the Pacific Northwest this weekend.

“Now that we’ve gone on the road and played better than we did the time before, I don’t mind going on the road again,” Kiffin said. “This team is used to going in, going through some adversity and not playing well, which is going to always happen at some points in games -- they make plays too. So I know that we’ll be really composed if that happens again.”

Cornerback update

The biggest news that Kiffin revealed on Tuesday was that Josh Shaw took reps at cornerback as the Trojans look to solidify the position opposite Nickell Robey.

As for Marqise Lee, he did not see time at cornerback during practice, and it’s looking less and less likely that he ever will, although Kiffin believes that his standout receiver certainly has the skills to star on the defensive side of the ball.

“We have not put him there in real stuff,” Kiffin said of Lee. “He’ll go over there sometimes in one-on-ones -- especially in the spring -- to mess around, and you can see that if he wanted to play defense, he’d be a first-round corner. But we’ve been through this whole thing with you guys before -- he is so valuable in the reps where the ball doesn’t go to him based off of the defenses that are called, it would be hard to take him off the field on offense.”

Cutting down the penalties

The Trojans were flagged an eye-popping 14 times for 100 yards against Utah, and penalties have been a problem all season. Kiffin said that the Trojans continue to work toward correcting the issue.

“[We] Just really [need to] continue to do what we’ve been doing which is stress it, post it, focus on it…crowd noise, you know, the same stuff that we did last year,” Kiffin said. “We’ve just got to turn it around, and it will turn around.”

Does he believe that the unusual number of penalties against Utah were due to the fact that the Trojans were playing on a Thursday night on national television?

“I don’t because we haven’t done well all year, so I don’t think it had to do with Thursday night,” Kiffin said. “I think it had to do with not making really good decisions, and a couple times some freshmen not being in, or an extra one being in once.”

Price still a challenge

One of the big storylines of the season so far for Washington has been the drop in production that the team has received from quarterback Keith Price. The St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) product has struggled at times in 2012, ranking last in the conference in terms of passing efficiency with a rating of 111.8 after finishing the 2011 campaign ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in the same category with a rating of 161.9

Despite the numbers, Kiffin believes that Price is just as dangerous as ever.

“I think that quarterbacks always get too much blame on all of the levels -- we saw it last night, on Monday night,” Kiffin said. “If the players around you aren’t in rhythm and aren’t doing things, sometimes you suffer -- just like [what] Matt [Barkley] went through at the beginning of last year, with so many new pieces coming in.”

“I think Price is suffering from all of those injuries, the tailback injuries -- two of them -- four offensive line injuries, the receiver injuries…that’s hard for any program to handle. And as a quarterback you suffer with a bunch of new guys in there.”