LOS ANGELES -- Former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll liked to use the phrase "teachable moments" when it came to his team, and USC's 23-14 victory over Utah on Saturday definitely provided Lane Kiffin with a teachable moment for his players, regarding the importance of turnovers.
USC turned over the ball three times, including twice inside the red zone, and two of those turnovers led directly to the only two Utah scores of the game. If the Trojans don't turn over the ball, they likely convert those red-zone trips into points while preventing the Utes from getting on the board, drastically altering the score.
"It was a frustrating game," Kiffin said. "There were so many times that we should have turned it into a couple-touchdown lead, and we didn't do it. At the end, our last six possessions featured one turnover and five punts. That's some bad ball."
Fortunately for Kiffin and the Trojans, they were able to escape with another victory and an important teachable moment.
Kiffin has said many times that ideally he would like to have the offense revolve around a power run game, which would set up the pass game. That hasn't happened in the first 15 games of his tenure, but the Trojans will have the best chance for that with Marc Tyler as the primary tailback.
At 230 pounds, Tyler has the size and the ability to run between the tackles to run the physical style Kiffin wants. Whether the Trojans O-line is capable of doing its part for that style to work remains to be seen, but the right kind of tailback seems to be in place. Don't be surprised to see more of a two-man rushing attack, with Tyler as the primary runner and D.J. Morgan as the first reserve, with his breakaway ability.
Shaking things up
Look out for potential changes at a few positions on the practice field this week. Kiffin mentioned in his media call Sunday night that the secondary -- specifically the cornerback spot opposite Nickell Robey -- and the offensive line (both guard positions) were spots that are not completely set in the minds of the coaches.
"We need better man-to-man coverage, that is a concern," Kiffin said. "The two teams we've played so far this season are not going to be way up there in terms of the level of passing offenses we see, and they had some success against us. We may shake things up back there.
"On the offensive line, we need to keep looking for answers. I thought Martin Coleman did some good things for us before he got hurt. We were able to run right early in the game, but then their ends caused us some problems. We need to get that straightened out."
At corner opposite Robey, we've seen a rotation so far of Torin Harris and Tony Burnett. Harris has made big plays at the end of each game to help secure victories, but he and Burnett both have been thrown at with more success than the coaches would like. Don't be surprised if guys like Anthony Brown or Isiah Wiley get a look, or possibly even Brian Baucham or T.J. Bryant. Brown really stands out at times, but he is similar in size to Robey, and the coaches have been hesitant to have two smaller corners on the field at the same time.
A big key at the left guard spot could be the return of Abe Markowitz from his foot injury. Markowitz was hopeful of being cleared last week, but it didn't happen.
Offensive line coach James Cregg said that Markowitz is one of those guys who could get right back into game action without a lot of practice time, so Markowitz -- who was well on his way to earning the starting job before his injury -- probably would be put on the field immediately if cleared. At right guard, freshman Aundrey Walker made his collegiate debut with a cameo Saturday, and as he continues to learn the playbook his playing time will increase.
Becoming a leader
One guy on the offensive line who has been playing at a high level so far this year is left tackle Matt Kalil. His block on the Tyler touchdown run was a thing of beauty, as he pulled and cleared an easy path for Tyler to waltz into the end zone. He also provided the game-clinching play with his block of a last-second field goal attempt, his second blocked kick of the year.
"Matt was kind of quiet when we first got here, but now he is one of the team leaders," Kiffin said. "He's been really, really good this year. If we had four more like him on the offensive line, we would have no issues."
Waiting their turn
When Dillon Baxter and Kyle Prater enrolled at USC in the spring semester of 2010 it was naturally assumed that they were getting a head start on their careers and would see an immediate impact. So far, at least as far as the 2011 season is concerned, that hasn't been the case. Baxter has one carry for two yards and two catches for three yards, Prater doesn't have any stats at all.
It's certainly not what either player imagined when they were five-star recruits being courted by some of the top college programs in the country. It's a reality of college football, however, that there are other big-time prospects on the roster as well, and sometimes you need to wait your turn. For many players, that's easier said than done.
"Any kind of playing time would be nice," Baxter said after last Saturday's game.
No confirmed update on the availability of defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who originally had medical tests last spring for an undisclosed condition. Kiffin said two weeks ago that the team was expecting to hear a confirmed update on his status the following week, but as of Sunday night he said Armstead still had not been cleared. When asked whether he had inquired about why the process is taking so long, Kiffin said he has not been in on that part of the discussions but that he was sure it had been discussed.
Freshman tight end Junior Pomee, who enrolled late in fall camp because of academic concerns and then promptly broke his foot, was expected to sit out this season as a redshirt while he recovered from his injury. Pomee recently tweeted, "At first i thought i made the right choice but as time went by things changed and i made the wrong choice but i know where i wanna go and wanna be at an it's not here."
The post seems to indicate Pomee was looking to leave USC, but there was no further information from Pomee or the school. Sources have said his frustration apparently grew out of conversations with the USC coaches about keeping with his scheduled rehab times, but at this point the situation appears to have stabilized as Pomee is still enrolled at USC. A source close to Pomee has said he is still considering the option of a transfer, so stay tuned for more on this one.
With the Syracuse Orange coming to town Saturday, there will be one player on the roster with a name very familiar to USC fans. Senior defensive end Mikhail Marinovich is the son of former USC offensive lineman Marv Marinovich (1959-62) and the half-brother of QB Todd Marinovich (1989-90).
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.