'No gray area' for USC defense in Sun Bowl

LOS ANGELES -- Georgia Tech, USC’s opponent in the approaching Sun Bowl, typically either scores a lot of points or very few.

So Nickell Robey, the Trojans' top corner, expects the New Year's Eve game in El Paso, Texas to go in one of two directions: fantastic or terrible, with no possible middle ground.

"This game can either be a really good game or it can be really bad -- there will be no gray area,” Robey said after a USC practice this week. “You’re going to see if we’re really prepared or not, because that’s the type of team they are with their offensive system."

Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin said he understood where Robey was coming from.

"That probably comes off the speech today about showing the different games," Kiffin said Wednesday. "Some (opposing teams) have come out with the right mentality and been really aggressive and embrace the challenge, and some teams, it looks like they don't really want to play."

Kiffin showed his team cut-ups of the massive point totals the Yellow Jackets have put up this season -- and then showed them some small point-total games. Georgia Tech’s flexbone offense has scored 68, 59 and 56 points in wins and 17 (twice), 15 and 10 in losses. The total yardage contrasts have been similar.

Kiffin described them as “some unbelievable numbers and some very reasonable numbers."

Because the flexbone system is so different from other option offenses in college football, the Trojans are finding it hard to implement in practice. Kiffin said it took two days just to get the offensive scout-teamers a decent grasp of how to run Georgia Tech’s plays.

"I’m glad we have the extra time,” Kiffin said of preparing for the Dec. 31 game. “I don’t know how people do it in one week."

Barkley's status

Injured USC quarterback Matt Barkley has not made a recent appearance on the Trojans' practice field, although he's still scheduled to practice in El Paso beginning Dec. 26 and start the Sun Bowl.

Barkley, who sprained his throwing shoulder last month against UCLA, continues to attend USC's morning meetings and then does extra rehab work on his own during practices, Kiffin said.

The Trojans coach said Barkley is handling the injury and the missed time better than "many people" would.

"I think that all goes back to his balance and who he is, and the fact that he's not put everything in his life into football," Kiffin said. "Or else this would be really, really hard to deal with, and it still is for him."

Kiffin said the adversity Barkley has faced in college -- including the NCAA sanctions that resulted in a two-year bowl ban -- will make him a more desirable player to talent evaluators at the next level.

"I think all the stuff he’s been through makes him a more valuable pick,” he said. “If everything went smooth throughout his career, then all of the sudden you wonder, 'Can he deal with adversity?'"

Moving back to afternoon practices?

USC has practiced in the morning for the past two seasons, requiring players to wake up at around 5 a.m. for meetings, but Kiffin and his staff are considering a move back to afternoon practices for 2013.

Kiffin said the possibility has been available for some time, but the recent night and afternoon sessions during bowl preparation raised the topic again.

“I don’t think we’d ever be able to get to night practices, but there’s been a lot of thought put into the afternoon practices, like the previous format," he said this week. "We’ll look at that after the season. ... I think it's just looking at the overall energy."

Afternoon practices would typically start at 4 p.m. Kiffin stressed the Trojans' 7-5 record has nothing to do with him reconsidering the practice times.

Receiver Robert Woods said he noticed more animation from his teammates under the lights.

"The juices are a little different than the morning practices," Woods said. "I'd say there’s more energy.

"At 5 o'clock in the morning, you're not really juiced up."

Woods' and Robey's decisions

Kiffin has discussed the NFL with his top two juniors who are considering leaving early, Woods and Robey. But he declined to say what he recommended for the two players -- at least until after they make their decisions public.

And there's no use trying to prevent them from thinking about the next level over the next two weeks, he said, as it's on their minds anyway.

"It just is," Kiffin said. "A lot of times, even though they're waiting for evaluations, they've kind of made their minds up anyway.

"So we'll get 'em back and just keep talking to them and figure out their decisions."

Both players are awaiting official evaluations back from the NFL but said it wasn't a distraction during Georgia Tech preparation.

"I'm not even thinking about that one bit," Woods said.

Final notes: Kiffin said running back Tre Madden is on track to be ready for spring practice after tearing his left ACL in April. … USC's players saw a special screening of the new film "Django Unchained" on Thursday night as part of their bowl gifts. Kiffin is also hosting the team at his house for dinner on Friday night and then taking the players to a Clippers-Kings game at the Staples Center. … Incoming receiver Darreus Rogers, a Carson native, practiced with the Trojans for the first time Thursday. As he has already been cleared by the NCAA, Rogers can practice with the team in L.A. before he officially enrolls in classes in January.