Tag:Curtis McNeal
Posted on: November 27, 2011 1:05 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 3:53 am
 

USC routs UCLA as attention turns to Barkley



Posted by Bryan Fischer


LOS ANGELES -- Lane Kiffin did what he could to get Matt Barkley to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

USC receivers just kept running routes and, thanks to Barkley, UCLA fell on the wrong end of a rout once again.

It had been 534 days but USC could finally say they were bowl eligible too.

The Trojans have to win at least six games next season to qualify for a bowl of course - a near certainty given the amount of talent returning in 2012 - but on the Coliseum turf Saturday night, they could finally say they had the right to play in one after shutting out their crosstown rival UCLA 50-0.

The only question left in 2011: One more year or thanks for the memories Matt?

"This night is too special to take away from what we've done," Barkley said. "I don't want to worry about my future, I want to spend my time enjoying the night. We've worked hard for this and we deserve to celebrate a little bit."

Barkley's team jumped the gun a little, singing the fight song while he was in the middle of his press conference.

"That gave me chills."

In what could have been the quarterback's final performance under center, he went out close to perfect: 35-for-42, 423 yards and a school record-tying (his own, by the way) six touchdown passes.

The fans want an encore next year and you can understand why.

"When he gets back from New York we will sit down," Kiffin said. "Unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he is not coming back.

"I probably shouldn't say this but I look up to Matt Barkley. He has been through a lot of adversity. Basically all of his dreams about football were taken away with the sanctions. I don't know any 39-year olds that can handle things the way he did, much less any 19-year olds."

The pitch to stay is easy enough he doesn't have to say much at all.

USC started just only four seniors, two of whom were on offense. Just nine players who saw any significant playing time won't be back next year prior to any NFL defections. Biletnikoff finalist Robert Woods (13 catches for 113 yards, two touchdowns) will return and Marqise Lee (13 catches for 224 yards, two touchdowns) will be just a sophomore. Every starter on the offensive line could return, including potential first round left tackle Matt Kalil, who he said is a "package deal" with Barkley earlier in the week.

Even the defense is loaded, with two freshman tying for the lead in tackles for the first time in school history.

So the question will be, for the next several weeks, will he stay or will he go?

"I've been in his ear trying to get him back," Woods said. "Of course the decision is his but I feel like we could go a long way with him."

"I haven't started yet," Lee said with a grin. "But I'm going to."

Kiffin has been on record saying that sure-fire first round picks should leave but his tune has changed over the past few months. Not much of a joker, he's cracks plenty about his quarterback coming back.

With Barkley the Trojans can emerge from their bowl ban (and start scholarship reductions) as a top five team, primed to compete not only for a Rose Bowl but a national title like the good old days under Pete Carroll. The blond-haired Southern California kid could lead his dream school out of the program's toughest days and back to the promise land.

"We are coming out of the dark," said Kiffin about 2012.

USC has a great film department so they may have already sold the script to Disney.

"It means a lot knowing the Trojan family has my back. It's going to be tough," the signal-caller added. "I'm still enjoying that game and enjoying this night."

The Coliseum crowd started the "One more year" chant early. After watching the Trojans' scoreboard get a workout though, it wasn't clear who they wanted to come back more, Barkley or UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel.

The loss dropped him to 26-32 overall, 17-15 in the conference at his alma mater. Though Neuheisel has yet to beat USC, he talked about the gap between the school 14 miles away being closed earlier in the week - after UCLA backed into the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon.

"That was a pretty strong statement to make," Kiffin said. "Our players took that very personal. It was talked about a lot and not by me at all. I think they really felt disrespected."

After Saturday, the gap may never have been wider.

"I'm going to evaluate this program at the end of the year like I always have," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "We've got another game to focus on and it's a big game.

"It's a devastating loss for any Bruin fan or anybody in that locker room or any of the coaches."

UCLA gave up a 98-yard scoring drive and defensive backs had trouble all night preventing receivers from getting behind them for long scores. They allowed the Trojans' smallest offensive player, running back Curtis McNeal, to take a simple off tackle play 73-yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Quarterback Kevin Prince was the lone bright spot but ended up as the team's leading rusher, not exactly the plan.

In many ways it was over before it began.

"The first drive," Neuheisel said of when he knew he had a problem. "We couldn't stop them and we were too inconsistent on offense to be in a scoring fest and it just got out of hand."

The Pac-12 office said USC could only say they finished in first with their 10-2 record and could not call themselves South champions. They gave their blessing for UCLA to do, despite finishing second, however.

Tomato, tohmato. First place vs. South champion, the scoreboard did the talking.

"It shows who really is the Pac-12 champion," Kalil said.

In the locker room after the game, the team found shirts adorned with "Pac-12 South Champions" awaiting them from athletic director Pat Haden.

Across the country there are plenty of fierce rivalries but nothing quite like the crosstown showdown that takes place at the end of the season every year in Los Angeles. Office bragging rights are at stake. Friends won't speak to each other afterward. In plenty of cases it pits brother versus brother - including on the field.

Tim McDonald was a two-time All-American safety for USC. Son T.J. followed in his footsteps and started for the Trojans when he was a freshman at the position. Younger brother Tevin took a different path and signed with the Bruins, ending up as the starter opposite his brother Saturday night.

T.J. will take home bragging rights once again and likely spend Christmas detailing his interception in the red zone that ended one of the few Bruins scoring threats.

"It's a big thing," McDonald said of the pick. "But for us to get that shutout, for this crosstown rivalry, to play this way in the last game of the season, this was our bowl game. We had nothing to leave out on the field and we did that."

Kiffin's squad took the title of city champions for the 12th time in 13 years. Though they had the (NCAA) book thrown at them and doubters aplenty, they lived up to the school's 'Fight On' motto throughout the turmoil that had engulfed the program the past few years and, it seems, is starting to disperse.

"We had a lot to play for this year," Barkley said. "We were playing for this university, the history of this program. You're playing for personal pride, you don't want to just flush the season down the toilet. There were a ton of things that we were playing for and that motivated us."

Woods became the school and conference leader in receptions early in the second half. Barkley broke Matt Leinart's school and conference record with his 39th touchdown pass of the season.

"It's unreal, I never thought this would happen," he said. "I remember watching that year that he had."

The Trojans were not eligible for the Pac-12 championship or a BCS bowl but they stated their case one final time that they could beat anybody in the country in 2011.

"The way we're playing, I think we could," Barkley said.

So what about next year?

Posted on: November 22, 2011 3:13 pm
 

Keys to the game: UCLA at USC

Posted by Bryan Fischer

UCLA WILL WIN IF: Though there is certainly a talent deficit in Westwood, that doesn't mean the Bruins can't win and end their crosstown rival's promising season with a loss if they put together a well executed game plan. The Pistol offense has had it's moments recently and can give the Trojans plenty of problems if they move the ball consistently. UCLA will need to be flawless against a good team and the defense - especially the secondary - will have to take a step up if Rick Neuheisel is to win this for the Pac-12 South title and, probably, to save his job.

USC WILL WIN IF: The running game has started to pick up for the Trojans as both Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal have given opposing defenses something else to worry about other than the trio of Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. With firepower like that, they really just have to keep doing what they did against Oregon last week but against a defense that is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12.

X-FACTOR: Emotions. This is USC's final home game and therefore final game of the season as they serve out their two-year bowl ban. It could also be Barkley's final game in the cardinal and gold so you wonder if emotions will get the best of him and others on the team. Likewise, UCLA will come in looking to pull the upset so if they face some adversity early on, their reaction will be key as to whether they can turn momentum around.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 11:41 am
 

Keys to the game: USC at Oregon

Posted by Bryan Fischer

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILL WIN IF: The Trojans have retooled on defense with faster linebackers and are better equipped to handle the Ducks speed than they have been in previous years. Creating stops are as important as containing big plays and getting the ball back to an offense that has more weapons than anybody Oregon has seen all years. The emergence of Curtis McNeal and Marc Tyler have given a nice boost to the running game and they'll need to continue to have Robert Woods and Marqise Lee making big plays if USC wants to pull off the upset.

OREGON WILL WIN IF: The game plan is always the same for the Ducks, apply pressure by scoring quickly on offense and apply pressure - more literally - on defense by being aggressive with the front seven. Chip Kelly was very aggressive against Stanford and we'll see if he continues to keep that up against a team that has a lot more athletes that can create big plays on both sides of the ball. Oregon is in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl and could even be playing for a rematch in the BCS title game so don't be surprised if they want some style points on national television and for Heisman Trophy candidiate LaMichael James.

X-FACTOR: Matt Barkley turnovers. USC has been in games with Oregon for a half but, like most of the Ducks opponents, have fallen apart in the second half. If Matt Barkley continues to be efficient in the passing game and spreads the ball around to his receivers, the Trojans have a chance. If he turns the ball over once or twice though, it will be hard to see an upset. The margin is just that thin for this team but no doubt they have the talent to get a win if Barkley plays well.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 12:28 am
Edited on: October 30, 2011 2:46 am
 

QUICK HITS: Stanford 56, USC 48 (3OT)

Posted by Bryan Fischer

LOS ANGELES -- Stanford had heard from just about everyone that they hadn't been tested this season.

They played their first ranked team last week, Washington, and promptly ran for school-record 446 yards. It was their 10th straight win by 25 points or more, the first time ever that had been accomplished since 1936. Apparently they weren't tested.

They were tested Saturday night; escaping LA with a 56-48 victory after three overtimes in front of a sold-out Coliseum crowd that was rocking like it was in the glory days.

The Heisman front-runner, Andrew Luck, gave voters a game to remember with crisp, efficient passes to 10 different targets to finish 29-for-40, 330 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the night.

"The stats aren't going to show the plays he made, but he's a really special pocket passer and makes plays with his feet," Lane Kiffin said. "It's why he'll be the first pick in the draft."

The grizzly-bearded Luck nearly gave the game away, throwing a late pick-six that was returned by Nickell Robey for a touchdown to put USC on top 34-27 with just over three minutes remaining.

"Throughout the game he was looking off receivers a lot, that's what he does (so well)," Robey said. "I knew when he looked off he was going to come back to Chris (Owusu). My coach always says trust and believe. When I saw him sit down I just went for it. Luck is a great player, he did a lot of things that wasn't normal in the passing game. He came at us at every angle."

Not only had Stanford trailed for the first time all season after Curtis McNeal sprinted up the sidelines for a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter, but it was also the first time the Cardinal offense were tested late in the game. The pick-six put the team down seven late in the game. That was no problem for Luck, who led an efficient, game-tying 10 play, 61-yard drive to send the game into overtime.

"I was very disappointed in myself," Luck said of the interception. "There were a couple of seconds there when I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. But the guys believed in me. I was happy there was still some time on the clock to go down there again."

"One thing you can't forget about Andrew is that he is the most competitive guy on our team," David Shaw said. "When a bad play happens he goes completely down in the dumps. He's so mad, he's so upset, he's furious. Then it's like a toilet, he flushes it. It's like it never happened and he moves on even more determined.

"He was so mad at himself, he was not going to let that play lose the game for us."

The Trojans came close to pulling off the upset thanks in large part to one of the smallest players on the USC roster in McNeal, who rushed for a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns. He ended up the goat however, fumbling the ball into the end zone after USC had the ball on the four yard line looking to match the Cardinal's touchdown and two-point conversion to lead off the third overtime. Terrence Stephens punched it out of McNeal as he took a draw up the middle, preserving the win.

Despite coming close to seeing their perfect record blemished, the scoreboard still showed the Cardinal had rang up 56 points. The amount was the most ever scored on USC in the program's illustrious history.

"We just needed one stop, that's all," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Then we'd all be celebrating right now."

"I didn't know that but I would probably figure out it was close if it wasn't the record. I can't believe anybody would give up that many points. Of course, overtime and (Luck) ended up with a short field now too."

Even Luck's incompletions were things of beauty that every one of the 93,607 fans appreciated - regardless of the shade of red they were wearing. On one play early in the game, Luck was flushed out of the pocket to his left, but still managed to throw a bullet with perfect form to the back of the end zone - while being tackled - that glanced off the hands of his target. It went down in the box score as an incompletion but was nevertheless impressive.

How special is the 6-foot-4, 237-pound signal-caller? He's led an offense that has scored the most points against USC ever - twice - after scoring 55 against the Trojans in 2009. By the way, he managed to so against defenses run by Pete Carroll and Monte Kiffin, who happens to have 45 years of coaching experience. It was also USC's only overtime loss at the Coliseum ever.

"I tip my hat off to him, he's a special player. Whatever grade he's in, I'm glad he's not going to be here next year." USC linebackers coach Joe Berry said. "He's one of those guys that comes along every 15 or 20 years. There's always first round draft pick quarterbacks in every draft but this guy? He's special."

Fourth-ranked Stanford escaped Los Angeles and kept their Pac-12 championship - and national title - hopes alive. Better (Andrew) Lucky than good for one night in October.

Posted on: October 25, 2011 11:45 am
Edited on: October 25, 2011 11:46 am
 

USC's booted Baxter to 'focus on academics'

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Trojan career of USC sophomore running back Dillon Baxter is hanging by a thread--if it's not finished already.

Lane Kiffin finally addressed Baxter's absence from the traveling roster for the team's win over Notre Dame Tuesday morning, confirming in a statement on the Trojan website that Baxter "will not be part of our football program" for at least the remainder of the season.

"The decision has been made for Dillon Baxter to focus on his academics," Kiffin said. "[W]e will continue to support him with our academic services department. There will be no further comment regarding this from me or any member of our program."

Though the statement would seem to leave the door open for Baxter's potential return, few seem to expect it after the former blue-chip recruit struggled mightily to find playing time in the Trojans' first seven games. For the season, Baxter has only nine carries for 29 yards and is well behind Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal on the depth chart.

Baxter has also been something of an off-field distraction during the 2011 season, with his parents requesting (and receiving) a meeting with Kiffin to discuss his lack of playing time in the season opener and his absence from the Notre Dame game reportedly due to his decision to remain with his girlfriend as she gave birth.

Whatever the issues between Kiffin and Baxter -- or Baxter and his grades -- it seems highly likely that if the San Diego product is to ever fulfill his ample recruiting hype, he'll have to do it somewhere other than USC. The consensus five-star seemed poised for stardom after Kiffin offered him rave reviews in spring camp 2010, a camp in which he did this just days after graduating high school:



But barring an impressive career rehabilitation, that play will be as close as Baxter ever gets to stardom for the Trojans.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 11:32 am
 

Keys to the Game: Notre Dame vs. USC

Posted by Tom Fornelli

NOTRE DAME WILL WIN IF: See if you notice a trend here. In Notre Dame's two losses to start the season, it turned the ball over 10 times. In the four victories since, the Irish have turned the ball over 5 times, including none in the last two games. You think it's a coincidence that the Irish have won those games? I don't. In USC, the Irish will be facing a defense that has forced 10 turnovers on the season and is giving up 23.5 points per game, but gave up 43 points to Arizona State and 41 to Arizona. The Irish offense may be stronger than both of those teams, and as long as Tommy Rees can continue to take care of the football, the Irish should find plenty of success on offense and knock off their hated rivals.

USC WILL WIN IF: The Trojans offense has not been fantastic this season and it's facing a Notre Dame defense that, aside from a couple meaningless fourth quarter touchdowns by Air Force last week, has been very strong over the last month. Much like Notre Dame needs to do, Matt Barkley and the USC offense will have to take care of the ball and use a balanced attack to move the ball down the field and keep Notre Dame's offense off the field. Opposing quarterbacks have completed less than 60% of the passes against the Notre Dame defense, but that unit has also allowed 10 touchdowns through the air and 225 yards per game. So the opportunities will be there for Barkley and Robert Woods, they just need to take advantage of them.

X-FACTOR: Curtis McNeal. While nothing is official yet, after suffering a shoulder injury last weekend, USC's leading rusher Marc Tyler isn't expected to play in this game. Which means McNeal will take over the starting role. He's not as big as Tyler, and while Notre Dame's run defense has been very tough this season, it did give up over 6 yards per carry against Air Force last week. If McNeal can find that kind of room this week and give USC more balance on offense, then the Trojans just might leave South Bend with a victory. 
Posted on: October 14, 2011 12:42 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 1:21 am
 

QUICK HITS: USC 30, Cal 9

Posted by Bryan Fischer

USC WON: As the great Charles Barkley would say, "that was turrible." The Trojans were held to a season-low 310 yards of offense but got a win gift wrapped for them after Cal turned the ball over five times. It's not like USC had to work for the turnovers either, quarterback Zach Maynard just seemed to throw it right to cardinal and gold defenders at the most inopportune moments. While the Trojans' defense looked much improved following a bye week, the offense struggled in the second half and dealt with several injuries.

WHY USC WON: The Trojans came into the game with five turnovers on the season and doubled that number on their annual trip to the Bay Area. Linebacker Dion Bailey had two interceptions and eight tackles to pace the defense and the front seven was active all night getting pressure on Maynard. The offense wasn't sharp but was much more balanced than they have been, with running back Curtis McNeal rushing for 86 yards and a touchdown after replacing an injured Marc Tyler.

WHEN USC WON: Lane Kiffin's squad pretty much took control in the 2nd quarter and never let the Bears back in the game. They started four times in Cal territory in the first half thanks to turnovers and nearly had a pick-six from Nickell Robey to really blow it open. They still had a nice drive early in the third before Matt Barkley hit freshman Marqise Lee on a beautiful fade route with the freshman tip-toeing along the sideline and in for a touchdown. Maynard threw an interception and the defense stuffed a fake punt on the next two possessions before Brandon Carswell scored a seven yard touchdown to put USC in control 20-0.

WHAT USC WON: A game they needed to win before the long trip to South Bend. The Trojans haven't proven they're a good team but they can be an above average one if they can beat rival Notre Dame next week and move to 6-1 on the year. 

WHAT CALIFORNIA LOST: The Bears dropped their third straight this season after running into a tough stretch in their schedule. It eases up a bit with Utah, a trip to UCLA, Washington State and Oregon State but they'll need to go 3-1 or better if they want to make a bowl game and keep Jeff Tedford's seat from being burning hot. There just hasn't been any execution in previous games against USC and that continued Thursday night.

THAT WAS CRAZY: USC has outscored Cal 92-3 in the first half the past four years. The Trojans were up 20-0 heading into the locker room in this game.

Posted on: April 23, 2011 10:31 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2011 10:38 pm
 

Despite injuries, USC ends Spring on a high note

Posted by Bryan Fischer

LOS ANGELES -- It's hard to take away too much from Spring Games. Sometimes they're designed to make the offense look good or feature a certain player. Often enough they're too vanilla and are limited to a handful of big plays. Given the injuries that USC has sustained this spring, it's hard to take away much of anything.

Despite limited action for several starters, there were a few bright spots here and there for the Trojans as they wrapped up their Spring Game at the Coliseum Saturday afternoon.

“Well, I thought the storyline of the day would be, if this were a real game, the play of the first-team defense, especially early on before we took some guys out," Lane Kiffin said. "The two defensive ends played extremely well today, (along with) T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. That was good to see."

The receiving corps was particularly banged up for the Trojans, who mostly had walk-ons running routes for a bevy of quarterbacks. Freshman All-American wide receiver Robert Woods did not play after spraining his ankle playing basketball, which Kiffin subsequently declared off limits before a game in the future. Brandon Carswell left the game with a concussion and tight end Rhett Ellison also went down with a back injury.

Quarterback Matt Barkley had his moments but finished a pedestrian 22 of 42 for 212 yards and two interceptions as a result of a lack of options in the passing game.

“I think it’s hard to evaluate,” Kiffin quipped of Barkley. “You guys (the media) probably had to go to your rosters a lot to know who the guys were out there who were running routes for him.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do on offense. It is hard to assess with so many people out for all of spring and so many people coming in that are going to have to play for us. It’s really hard to address where we’re at and figure it out.”

Quarterback Jesse Scroggins was 6-of-15 for 68 yards and had one interception while Cody Kessler went 4-of-6 for 24 yards. Both quarterbacks, along with Max Wittek, are looking to backup Barkley in the fall. Luckily the ground game seemed to be moving the chains on offense a bit more effectively. Running back D.J. Morgan rushed for 89 yards on 14 carries before coming out with injury but displayed the ability to turn the corner and then hit the jets on a nifty 36 yard run. Curtis McNeal also looked good and had 107 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

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

After being criticized much of last year, the defense showed flashes of old and played well throughout the day. They ended up "winning" the game 42-29 using a modified scoring system.

“The D is playing faster,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “Second year in the system, knowing it better. You see this, you see that."

Defensive end Nick Perry was a constant presence in the backfield and finished up with six tackles and two sacks. Cornerback Anthony Brown (who had an interception) and safety McDonald looked sharp in the secondary. In fact, the defense as a whole might have done even better had they been allowed to blitz.

“It may not have been my decision," the elder Kiffin said. "It might have been somebody, a guy with the last name Kiffin.”

With blitzes and several starters out for the Trojans, it's still hard to get a good read on what kind of team the Kiffins will have once the calendar turns to August. Ask them and they'll tell you the same thing. 

Thanks to the creativity of Lane Kiffin though, perhaps it's fitting that USC ended their spring game - and spring practices - on a high note thanks to a reverse pass from tailback Dillon Baxter to Barkley for a touchdown.

"To finish off the Spring Game with a touchdown catch was a good feeling," Barkley said. "He haven't gone over it at all. Kiff just said let's do this. It was man coverage so it was a pretty easy play."

USC might need a lot of improvising in the fall if the injury issue continues to arise. They can only hope they all will end up as high notes.
 
 
 
 
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