Kiffin: Revisiting Hawaii

Here are notes and quotes from Lane Kiffin's Sunday evening teleconference with the media, as the Trojans' head coach looked back at his team's 49-10 win over Hawaii and looked forward toward Syracuse:

Plenty of room for defensive improvement

USC played alright on defense against Hawaii, but Kiffin wanted to see more playmaking from his defenders -- especially a deep secondary that possessed a significant athleticism advantage over the Warriors receivers.

But the Trojans' head coach attributed a lot of the desired playmaking to the three defensive starters who did not play in the game due to injury: defensive end Wes Horton, middle linebacker Lamar Dawson and cornerback Torin Harris.

When some of those guys get back, Kiffin will expect immediate improvement, with games against better offensive teams Syracuse and Stanford quickly approaching.

"We're gonna need to make more plays on the ball in the secondary," Kiffin said Sunday.

McNeal should play more

No, it was not part of Kiffin's plan to run Curtis McNeal only five times in the Trojans' season opener.

It sort of just happened. And so McNeal finished with only 10 yards, his lowest rushing total since the second game of the 2011 season.

Kiffin said Saturday was "kind of a strange game offensively," what with how many explosive plays USC was able to achieve through the air and how few the Trojans got on the ground.

That probably had to do with the fact that Kiffin called 43 pass plays and just 21 running plays. But Kiffin said Hawaii's defense "really dictated" how much USC tried to throw the ball.

He did at least allow that it wasn't "the balance we're looking for."

Two star freshmen

It wasn't known leading up to the game, but Kiffin admitted on Sunday that freshman Nelson Agholor seized the No. 3 receiver job from De'Von Flournoy in the final week of fall camp.

"He really came along with knowledge of the offense and making plays," Kiffin said.

As of right now, it sounds as if Agholor is No. 3, Flournoy is No. 4 and George Farmer is No. 5 -- although Farmer might have played more against the Warriors than Flournoy.

That could still change, too.

At defensive tackle, the play of freshman Leonard Williams was must-see viewing ... for good and ill. He had an impressive sack and beat his man several times, but he also put himself out of position on a number of plays.

Still, Kiffin came away convinced Williams has the talent to be a major difference-maker against opponents. Williams’ debut brought back memories of the linemen Kiffin’s squad went against during his 2009 season at Tennessee, the coach said.

"That's what you deal with in the SEC every week," Kiffin said of Williams.

Aware of allegations

Kiffin said he knew about a Los Angeles Times report linking former USC running back Joe McKnight and an ex-Trojans basketball player to former Los Angeles County appraiser Scott Schenter and alleged extra benefits.

He said it would not affect his team in any way.

"I was aware of that yesterday, a couple hours before the game," Kiffin said. "I have no comment on it. We were completely focused on the game and we will be this week. (USC athletic director) Pat Haden made a lengthy comment and that covered everything.

"It's not even registering with us as far as this football team and what we're doing."

Haden's statement can be seen in full here.

Scouting Syracuse

Kiffin was asked about Syracuse running some zone-read option plays in a close loss to Northwestern on Saturday.

The Trojans' coach had two responses: Hawaii also ran some zone-read, in an unexpected development, and the Orange offense will be difficult for USC to stop this Saturday in New Jersey.

Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib passed for 470 yards and four touchdowns against Northwestern, completing 44-of-65 passes. He also carried 12 times for 30 yards. Of course, Nassib played effectively against USC last season, as well.

"I think it'll be a big challenge, dealing with the zone read," Kiffin said.

Final notes: Kiffin said he was pleased with Max Wittek's college debut, although the redshirt freshman did call the wrong play on one occasion that still resulted in a completion. Which led Kiffin to joke: "So much for making up plays that are supposed to work." … Hayes Pullard is "further along" at middle linebacker than Dawson, according to Kiffin. Of course, Dawson didn't even suit up for Saturday's game due to injury. … Kiffin referred to both Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee as future top-five NFL draft picks. ... Dion Bailey switched over to weakside linebacker from his normal strongside slot in nickel situations on Saturday, Kiffin said. ... Redshirt freshman Anthony Sarao did "really well" in his collegiate debut starting on the weakside, Kiffin said.