Syracuse looms in two days for USC, but, make no mistake, Week 3 of the Trojans' 2011 season isn't about the Orange visiting from upstate New York. Lane Kiffin and his staff know that their team should handle Syracuse with no problem.
Saturday's game is about the Trojans.
"This week's theme has been, 'It's all about us,'" Kiffin said Thursday, after the Trojans' best practice of the week in terms of exhibited focus. "It's not about we're playing. We have to improve.
"We did improve from week 1 to week 2 and the key to being a really good team is continuing to improve as we move on to Week 3."
Incremental steps, that's the name of the game. USC took those steps last week and it was evident in the Utah game, when the Trojans' defense was much more able to stop the Utes late in the game. The team is on the upswing, certainly.
But that can change quickly. Wednesday's practice was lackluster. The special-teams stuff Kiffin and John Baxter love to work on so much was clearly a non-starter for the players, as Chris Galippo would later say.
But Thursday was different. The on-field energy was obvious and the players were clearly jazzed coming off the field. That's usually how it is on Thursdays, with a 48-hour break on the horizon, but this Thursday ended well, with T.J. McDonald intercepting a deep Matt Barkley pass in the end zone to close things out.
Kiffin said of how the execution of his theme has been going well.
"We've spent some extra time with some little details and things," he said. "The kind of things you would do in camp format to make sure you're not overlooking things because we do some have weaknesses through two weeks.
"We have to improve on those and not just feel good because we're 2-0."
This is more of a tune-up game for USC than anything else. Arizona State approaches in nine days, so Kiffin emphasizes little details that will presumably help USC against the Sun Devils next week.
Until then, Syracuse is the opponent listed on USC's schedule for Saturday's 5 p.m. PST game.
But it might as well be USC vs. USC.