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USC FOOTBALL: Trojans hoping third time's the charm

If circumstances were a little different, Lane Kiffin might run out the Coliseum tunnel today and veer to his right instead of left.

Syracuse contacted the USC coach three years ago about its coaching vacancy but Kiffin, looking for a job after being fired by the Raiders, rebuffed the Orange and instead was hired by Tennessee.

It is doubtful Syracuse regrets the decision because Kiffin bolted Tennessee after a season for USC. And the Orange are making gradual progress after the disastrous Greg Robinson era produced only 10 victories in four years.

Syracuse (2-0) visits the Trojans (2-0) in a battle of undefeated teams, but few give the Orange much chance for an upset, even with USC's penchant for close games at the Coliseum.

"No Big East team has won out there since 1957," Orange coach Doug Marrone said. "I don't think history is very much on our side on this one in a lot of different ways.

"They're a great football team, and great players go there. That's the history of Southern California."

Even with its history, USC players are getting restless after two closer-than-expected victories over Minnesota and Utah.

"We've got to break out," linebacker Dion Bailey said. "We can't keep having these close games. We want to have a big game."

This might be the week based on Syracuse's 21-14 victory over Rhode Island last week. But Orange fans could point out the Trojans' victory over Minnesota


lost some luster when the Gophers were upset by New Mexico State.
"We don't take anybody lightly," Kiffin said. "We respect everyone. And we really shouldn't be taking anybody lightly, anyway."

Ironically, it is Kiffin's offense that needs to prove itself today. The Trojans rank 10th in passing offense and scoring offense in the Pacific-12 Conference. They are tied for eighth in total offense.

"Our ultimate goal is to win. At the same time, I'm not pleased with the numbers we've put up as an offense," USC quarterback Matt Barkley said. "At times I have been, but we can't let that be the standard. We have to keep raising that bar because we can do so much more."

Kiffin's standard excuse is the offense's reliance on freshmen such as wide receiver Marqise Lee and tight end Xavier Grimble, along with tailback D.J. Morgan.

"Anytime that you play young kids, you're going to have (freshman mistakes)," Kiffin said. "Hopefully we're gaining more experience (so) we won't make those mistakes down the road."

For Kiffin's sake, he needs to be right. The schedule starts getting more difficult after today as the Trojans play their first road game next week against Arizona State. So the offense better grow up fast.

But the defense also has questions. USC ranks last in the conference in turnover margin with only one interception and one fumble recovery in two games. That might explain why safety Drew McAllister will see his first playing time today in relief of T.J. McDonald.

McAllister has demonstrated a knack for interceptions when healthy and the Trojans need someone to change the game's momentum, especially in the second half when the offense struggles.

"We've just got to play smart and relaxed," tailback Marc Tyler said. "I thought we did better last week. It will get better."




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