Notes, quotes and video from Thursday's practice, the Trojans' last before departing for Washington State on Friday:
Somewhat surprisingly, energy was up at Howard Jones Field -- not down, as some might expect when considering USC's recent history with Thursday practices and looking ahead to a game against a team the caliber of the Cougars. "Guys were upbeat," quarterback Matt Barkley said after practice. "I'm trying to spice it up with a little more energy, a little more pep -- and that seems to carry over to the rest of the team. I liked how guys were hustling about and getting in and out of the huddle. You could see a difference."
For the second consecutive day, cornerback T.J. Bryant came up with an interception on the final play of team scrimmage drills. Wednesday, the pick came on a tipped ball that Bryant was fairly lucky to grab. Thursday, he simply outsmarted backup quarterback Mitch Mustain, jumping a route and taking the ball back the other way for a pick six.
There are two things to note about that play. For one, it symbolized that the Trojans were indeed significantly improved in the whole forcing-turnovers aspect of the game this week in practice. The real challenge -- doing so in games -- still remains. "It starts at practice," cornerback Shareece Wright said Thursday. "And this was a good week. We got a lot more interceptions this week. So now we've just gotta execute that on Saturday and hopefully it works out that way." USC has recorded just three interceptions in three games this season, with one of those coming in garbage time late in last week's win over Minnesota.
And, for another, Bryant himself had a great week and has solidified his nickelback spot for the Washington State, per Kiffin. That means that freshman Nickell Robey has not lost his spot and will continue to start opposite Wright for the Trojans, with Torin Harris and Brian Baucham apparently competing for time as the dime back.
Center Kristofer O'Dowd and nose tackle Hebron Fangupo got into a bit of a skirmish toward the end of practice after the two lined up opposite each other on a run play. The fight was quickly broken up -- middle linebacker Devon Kennard and coach Monte Kiffin looked to be the main peace-keepers -- and O'Dowd and Fangupo were benched for the rest of the practice.
Injury report: linebacker Michael Morgan, running back Marc Tyler (hip), defensive linemen Nick Perry (ankle) and Armond Armstead (shoulder) were listed as limited. Linebacker Simione Vehikite and tight end Blake Ayles did not participate in practice.
Tyler appeared to get more work with the first team than he had on Wednesday, although he is still somewhat limited with a hip flexor injury. Allen Bradford continued to take first-team snaps and performed up to par. Kiffin has still not made a decision, indicating it would probably come tomorrow. On the topic of position battles, Kiffin added an interesting note when he was asked if he sees the value in telling players they have been chosen as the starter in a given week before the day of the game. Not so much, he answered -- although he does think it's important to tell the guy who doesn't win the job, in an effort to keep his confidence up. He said telling Bradford early last week that he would not be starting helped him prepare for his role -- and you know how that ended up working out. Kiffin did say that he expects both backs to get carries against the Cougars.
Final notes: At left guard, both starter Butch Lewis and backup Michael Reardon will play after Reardon had a good week of practice when presented the opportunity to challenge for Lewis' spot, Kiffin said. But Lewis also upped his play with the pressure supplied by Reardon. ...This week marks the first time this season the Trojans will not leave two days in advance for a road game. USC won't have to deal with any time-zone changes this time.
Kiffin spoke to the media following Thursday's practice, providing context on the running-back situation and offering up some of his thoughts in advance of the trip up to Pullman, Wash.
See what else the Trojans' coach had to say: