Keeping up with the Ducks

LOS ANGELES -- USC head coach Lane Kiffin has taken many coaching traits from mentors such as his father, Monte Kiffin, and his former boss with the Trojans, Pete Carroll, but a quick check of his current program shows an influence from USC's next opponent -- the Oregon Ducks – as well.

The Trojans consistently have run wind sprints at the end of practices this fall. It has been a long time since wind sprints were a regular part of a USC practice, as they were never part of a Carroll practice session. The fact they are done now is a nod to the conditioning demands of playing the Ducks.

The sprints made their first appearance last year, during the bye week that preceded the Oregon game. For two weeks the Trojans ran at the end of each practice, but it didn't appear to help, as the Ducks ran away with the game in the second half. This year the end-of-practice sprints started in spring ball and have become a regular staple since.

Then there's the matter of the practice start times. Kiffin instituted early-morning weekday practice sessions for his team this fall. The change was something he considered for a few years, but he was never in one place long enough to plan that far ahead. That being said, Oregon's early-morning practices got a lot of publicity last season.

You can also see the Oregon impact on the field with the Trojans.

True freshman Lamar Dawson will get the start at middle linebacker after recently replacing senior Chris Galippo in the starting lineup. One of the main reasons for inserting Dawson as a starter when the Trojans did was to get him some experience before facing Oregon. There are certainly other factors involved in the switch, as Dawson is a unique talent, but his speed advantage over Galippo when facing the up-tempo Ducks is certainly something the coaches took into account.

The Trojans also have incorporated more of the "check-with-me" offensive play-calling style that the Ducks use so well. Oregon certainly isn't the only team doing this -- Arizona State runs a similar system -- but the Ducks have mastered it as well as anybody. Every now and then this season, the Trojans will get lined up right away and then wait for Barkley to "check with Lane" in order to get the next play call.

Kiffin isn't shy about expressing his admiration for the job that Oregon coach Chip Kelly has done, and that respect can be seen in the Ducks' impact on Kiffin's program.

Men in the Middle
One of the keys for Auburn in defeating the Ducks in last season's BCS title game was dominant play from their interior defensive linemen.

The Trojans have a pair of senior starters in the middle of their line with Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris, but both players are battling injuries which kept them out of the Tuesday practice.

Tupou, who missed the entire 2010 season after knee surgery, suffered a sprained knee against Washington, while Harris was forced to miss the game against the Huskies with an ankle injury.

The experience and veteran savvy of both players would go a long way toward helping the Trojans win the battle at the line of scrimmage -- a key component toward disrupting the timing of the Oregon offense.

The primary backups for both players are freshmen, George Uko for Harris and J.R. Tavai for Tupou.

"It still doesn't make sense"
Lane Kiffin never imagined he would be trying to stop De'Anthony Thomas this weekend. Thomas was an early commit to USC for the Class of 2011 -- a leader of the recruiting class who was encouraging other kids to sign with the Trojans -- until a last-minute change of heart saw him sign with the Ducks.

"I've never figured it out," Kiffin said. "This is a guy who would wear SC gear from head to toe. He knew the other kids in the class and talked to them all the time. As you see that in the recruiting process, you start to get comfortable and picture him on your team."

Thomas is starring on the offensive side of the ball for the Ducks -- an interesting twist after there were rumblings during the recruiting process that the USC coaches were determined to play him at cornerback.

"We would have found a way to get him the ball," Kiffin said. "There's no way you wouldn't get him the ball. We saw in the Army All-American game that he can play corner too.

"He's made a big impact so far. The closest player I could probably compare him to is Reggie [Bush] -- he can just start and stop so fast with those fast cuts. It still doesn't make sense that he's not here. It's a little tough to watch him right now."

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.