Upon learning there would be no live tackling during USC's spring game, coach Lane Kiffin's defensive coordinator, who also happens to be his father, replied in a sarcastic vein. "Thanks a lot, Coach," said Monte Kiffin.
Neither Kiffin père nor any of the approximately 15,000 fans at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for last Saturday's "Trojan Huddle" could really blame the head coach. This is a team that could contend for a national title—if it stays healthy. To that end the 2012 "Huddle" was a glorified scrimmage. Quarterback Matt Barkley connected on 23 of his 39 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown. But the Heisman candidate threw one interception, had another pick dropped and missed more throws than usual.
Kiffin has played Barkley somewhat sparingly this spring, for which the coach makes no apologies. The Trojans will have little room for error over the next three seasons. While USC is once again eligible for postseason play after a two-year bowl ban, the number of scholarship players on its roster can't exceed 75 from 2012 through '14. That's why the loss of Tre Madden was such a harsh blow.
To provide depth in the backfield early in the spring—Tailback U was down to three scholarship tailbacks—the 6-foot, 220-pound Madden moved from linebacker to running back and was killing it. The grandson of ex--NFL back Lawrence McCutcheon, he'd drawn comparisons with LenDale White before crumpling to the turf on April 5 with a torn ligament in his left knee that will force him to miss the season.
Missing spring drills in their entirety was scintillating All-America receiver Robert Woods, whose recovery from off-season right-ankle surgery has been slower than expected. His absence allowed Barkley to improve his timing with Marqise Lee, who as a freshman in 2011 was the Trojans' breakout star. Lee caught seven passes for 57 yards on Saturday; he and Woods will give the USC arguably the best tandem of wideouts in the country next year.
While Lane Kiffin was frustrated by the first-half struggles of his offense on Saturday, the situation was more copacetic when the Huddle was over. Backup tailback D.J. Morgan flashed a serious burst on a 47-yard TD run. Barkley settled down and looked sharp in the second half. As it has been all spring, the Trojans' defense was flat-out dominant.
And no one got hurt.