Notes, quotes and video from Tuesday's practice:
No. 18 Arizona is the focus this week as a likely harbinger for the rest of the season, and the matchup -- a "really, really big game for us," coach Lane Kiffin said after Tuesday's practice -- presents an inherent challenge in facing a top 25 team on the road. USC's done that one other time this season, at Stanford, and lost, 37-35, on a last-second field goal. Said Kiffin: "Hopefully this time we'll finish it off, if we have a chance to."
Injury report: Defensive tackle Hebron 'Loni' Fangupo, safety Jawanza Starling, left tackle Matt Kalil, center Abe Markowitz (foot), running back Marc Tyler (ankle) and tight end Blake Ayles did not practice. Cornerback Brian Baucham, right tackle Tyron Smith (ankle/foot) and receiver Robert Woods (back) were limited. Woods hardly did anything, but we'll get to that Wednesday on the blog with a video interview with him; Tyler did some light running on the side of Howard Jones Field during practice and says he fully expects to be ready for Saturday. The injury, suffered at the end of the Arizona State game, was originally thought to be more serious, but it turned out to be a minor sprain of the inside ligaments -- not the break he feared. Said Tyler on Tuesday: "I heard a pop, but I guess I was wrong."
The kicking situation is -- in Kiffin's words -- an "ongoing concern." Of course, starter Joe Houston is 6-of-12 on field-goal attempts so far this season, with two key misses against Arizona State. But both Houston and punter Jacob Harfman, who moonlights as a kicker, struggled mightily while kicking in practice Tuesday. "It's not going to be relieved until we start making a few in row," Kiffin said of his worrying about the spot. "It's disappointing at this point in the season to still be where we're at with that, but it is what it is."
Receiver Markeith Ambles and linebacker/fullback Simione Vehikite were reinstated and returned to the field Tuesday, nearly two weeks after they each were suspended indefinitely. Said Kiffin of Ambles, who got some time at receiver in drills with Woods limited: "Markeith's back with us. He's been gone for a while and did what our expectations were for him off the field and academically and showed that he wants to do things right. We'll give him a chance and see if he can do it."
Kiffin was asked to grade running back Dillon Baxter's performance in his first career start against the Sun Devils. No direct grade was given, but Kiffin both praised and critiqued his young freshman. The coach brought up his no-negative runs statistic -- as we mentioned postgame in our final notes -- as a positive part of his day, but said he was disappointed that Baxter missed a key pass-protection pickup on the play that resulted in Matt Barkley's first interception. Baxter, who on Tuesday described his running as "pretty good," agreed with Kiffin's assessment and noted that he realizes the importance of it. "Coach [Kennedy Pola] has been coaching me up on techniques on how to block, big linebackers and everything. This is my freshman year, so coaches are gonna try and see if I can block, so I'm working hard on that."
Final notes: Kiffin praised senior C.J. Gable, who he said looked full-speed in practice for the first time since he was hurt near the end of the California game. "He looked very good today," Kiffin said. "It'll be interesting to see. ... If he's the best guy at the end of the week, then he'll play the most." ... Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who returned to the lineup Saturday after missing the Cal and Oregon games because of a knee injury suffered against Stanford, said his knee was back to causing him some pain since Saturday but said he was sure he'd play against Arizona. Smith had what Kiffin called the play of the game against the Sun Devils with an interception return for a touchdown.
Kiffin spoke to the media after Tuesday's practice and addressed Arizona's performance against Stanford and a variety of other topics.
See what he had to say:
Barkley still possesses a superb 24-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but Kiffin talked Tuesday about his inconsistency, even as a sophomore now with 20 starts under his belt.
"He gets so anxious to make plays all the time," the coach said. "It's been an up-and-down season in that way."
Of course, the decision that led to Kiffin's comments was the first-half interception Barkley threw in the end zone when the better option was to simply throw the ball away. Barkley freely admitted that after the game.
See what Barkley had to say after Tuesday's practice, beginning with his comments about that interception and his overall consistency level and continuing on to his squad's readiness for this weekend: