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USC hopes Coliseum is home, sweet home

Former USC coach Pete Carroll approached games with boyish enthusiasm but created a hostile mindset for home games that turned the Coliseum into a fortress during his nine years.

If one thing changed last season under Lane Kiffin, it was the idea teams dreaded visiting the Coliseum. USC barely beat Virginia, was upset by Washington, lost to Oregon, beat Arizona State by a point and lost to Notre Dame at home.

"We haven't done anything," he said.

But with three home games to start the season, Kiffin needs to establish a home-field advantage when the 25th-ranked Trojans host Minnesota at 12:30 p.m. today at the Coliseum.

"To know that we're here in front of the crowd with so many young players, it's good to get a couple games under their belt," Kiffin said.

USC should be favored in all three games against the Gophers, Utah and Syracuse but needs to regain its mojo in Los Angeles.

"It's exciting playing in the Coliseum," USC wide receiver Robert Woods said. "I'm not sure why we didn't play better last season (in our home games)."

Every USC player likes home games but there also was an edge missing last year Kiffin never really identified.

He preferred to stress games are significant, home or away.

"We're USC," he said. "The expectation here is to win every game that we play."

When Carroll rebuilt the program in 2001, however, he knew the importance of creating a home-game atmosphere that made

USC feel special in the Coliseum. He created "Trojan Walk" in which the players entered the stadium through the historic peristyle entrance and constantly stressed defending the home turf.
It paid off almost immediately. USC went 6-6 in Carroll's first season, but its two home losses were by a combined nine points. Carroll eventually won 35 consecutive games at the Coliseum.

Now the question is whether Kiffin can duplicate or come close to Carroll's success.

His big changes in Year 2 are piping loud music into team practices and allowing players to wear black socks today for the first time in school history.

"I guess some of the guys thought white socks looked soft so they decided to wear black," Woods said.

Kiffin said he does not care what color socks the players wear but went to athletic director Pat Haden to seek approval for the change. He might be viewed as humorless or stoic at times, but he does want to cater to his players.

"As you get to Year 2, you get to know your team better and you start to trust them," he said. "They understand your expectation. This team is more mature and more together than a year ago."

Last weekend, Kiffin brought the Trojans out to practice on a hot day, pretended to yell at punter Kyle Negrete for kicking balls into the nearby swim stadium and then ended by canceling practice and ordering the team into the pool.

"Kif just exploded and kicked us off the field out towards there," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "Then the speakers started playing, and all the managers were over there with towels and shorts for us, and we were going swimming. It was fun."

That only goes so far, of course, in Kiffin's world.

"With the season starting, it's time to play ball," he said. "One mistake here or there and it's the difference between winning and losing."

Maybe the Coliseum would feel more like a fortress if more players were familiar with the venerable stadium. The offensive line troubles Kiffin because there are three new starters.

"Both guards (John Martinez, Jeremy Galten) and the right tackle (Kevin Graf) never played a significant snap in college football," Kiffin said. "There's so many question marks with so many young kids."

The arrival of Minnesota should be the perfect antidote for that youth. New coach Jerry Kill, formerly of Northern Illinois, would be the first Golden Gophers coach to win his debut since 1986 if he pulled off an upset.

"These guys are very, very well-coached and have a dynamic playmaker with quarterback MarQueis Gray," Kiffin said. "We can't be overconfident."

Also ...

USC increased traffic-control officers and signage for today's game to improve traffic around the Coliseum. Traffic feeds, maps and updates will be available on a new free iPhone game-day application that is available at USC Game Day at the iTunes app store.

 

Read more at sgvtribune.com

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