Trojans Make Defensive Statement at Spring Game - NBC 7 San Diego

Trojans Make Defensive Statement at Spring Game

Banged up Trojans still put on show



    Trojans Make Defensive Statement at Spring Game
    Shotgun Spratling

    Projected starting linebackers Chris Galippo, Devon Kennard and Shane Horton all stood on the sideline without pads. So did starting defensive linemen Armond Armstead and Christian Tupou.

    By the end of USC's annual Spring Game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, starting cornerback Tony Burnett and back-up linebacker Marquis Simmons both were out of pads with ice-wrapped ankles.

    And that was the "healthy" side of the ball for the Trojans Saturday afternoon.

    With Freshman All-American Robert Woods and a number of offensive weapons out with injuries, the USC defense dominated the 121-play scrimmage, 42-29, in front of a crowd of 16,850.

    "I thought the storyline of the day was the play of the first team defense," coach Lane Kiffin said, "The two defensive ends played extremely well today as did T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey."

    Defensive ends Wes Horton and Nick Perry harassed Matt Barkley and the other quarterbacks all game with Perry collecting six tackles and a pair of sacks. Backup defensive end Zack Kusnir also had two sacks.

    Barkley was only 22-for-42 and threw a pair of interceptions despite the defense never blitzing. Playing behind only one experienced lineman and without receivers Kyle Prater, Woods and Brandon Carswell, who left the game with concussion symptoms, Barkley had limited options.

    "You guys probably had to go to your rosters a lot to see who the guys were out there that were running routes for [Barkley]," Kiffin said to the media. "So I think it's tough to evaluate him in that setting."

    The offense also was without tailback Marc Tyler and lost starting tight end Rhett Ellison in the first half after a big hit by safety Jawanza Starling, though coach Lane Kiffin said x-rays on Ellison's back were negative.

    Running backs D.J. Morgan and Curtis McNeal also left the scrimmage with minor injuries in the second half. However, both backs had productive days prior to departing. Morgan rushed for 89 yards on 14 attempts (6.4 yards per carry).

    But it was the 5-foot-7 McNeal, who was one of two offensive stars. McNeal rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run.

    "The O-line pretty much stepped their game up today," McNeal said. "They took so much criticism throughout the whole spring. Today, they just came out and played and I just did my part."

    The other star was running back Dillon Baxter. He had 104 yards rushing and an 8-yard touchdown run. He added to his Spring Game resume with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Barkley on the final play of the day.

    In the offense versus defense format, the defense was awarded points for defensive stops, turnovers and missed field goals. Six times the Trojans forced punts or turnover on downs. The defense also forced three interceptions and there were three missed field goals.

    The defensive secondary was particularly impressive after being much maligned last season when they allowed 259.5 yards passing per game and 30 touchdowns.

    "We're a year better. We know what we're doing and we know what the coaches expect," said McDonald, the junior leader of the secondary. "When you know what you're doing, it really slows the game slows, so we've been playing a lot faster."

    Starling led all tacklers with nine stops while junior college transfer linebacker Dallas Kelley collected eight tackles and had one of the plays of the day with a one-handed interception of a Barkley pass.

    Brian Baucham also picked off Barkley, taking away an underthrown pass down the right sideline intended for Robbie Boyer.

    The defense's third interception was collected by cornerback Anthony Brown when he pulled down a deep bomb by backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins.

    Scroggins finished the game 6-for-15 for 68 yards. Freshmen quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Wittek played sparingly. Kessler was 4-for-6 for 24 yards while Wittek did not attempt a pass. He was sacked and scrambled for three yards on the two passing plays called while he was in the lineup.

    After Ellison was injured, redshirt freshman tight end Xavier Grimble took advantage of the extra playing time. He had 73 yards receiving on a game-high eight catches. Markeith Ambles and De'Von Flournoy, the only two scholarship receivers to play, combined for 11 catches and 138 yards.