USC eager for Kiffin's home debut vs. Virginia

BY foxsports • September 10, 2010

Although Lane Kiffin allowed himself a few daydreams during his years as a hardworking assistant coach up in Heritage Hall, he never imagined making his head coaching debut at Southern California under quite these circumstances.

For starters, he always assumed he'd have more players following him out of the Coliseum tunnel into the crisp cool of a Los Angeles evening.

The scholarship restrictions and resulting transfers after NCAA sanctions have trimmed the 16th-ranked Trojans' depth to a minimum before they host Virginia on Saturday. Yet at least for one night, Kiffin hopes the Trojans' past misdeeds won't ruin the present for a talented team that only wants to focus on football.

''I don't think I ever really imagined it this way ... (but) there's a lot of excitement and anticipation about coming back to play,'' Kiffin said. ''Our fans have been through a lot, just like our guys have. We're very honored to be here, and to be able finally to go out there in front of our fans will be great.''

Kiffin realizes his first season in charge at USC will never be separated from the program's dramatic fall from grace. Even this week, Kiffin spent time answering questions about the possibility of the Heisman Trust revoking the trophy won a half-decade ago by tainted tailback Reggie Bush, who was recruited in part by Kiffin.

But actual football also is back at USC (1-0), which opened its first season of bowl banishment with a ramshackle 49-36 victory at Hawaii. Amid the 11 penalties, numerous defensive mistakes and sublime offensive play, Kiffin saw enough promise to make him cautiously optimistic for a strong debut at home.

''This week is more about us than about Virginia,'' Kiffin said. ''It's about coming back and playing well in the Coliseum.''

Quarterback Matt Barkley can relate to Kiffin's diminished expectations. After watching USC dominate the game while he was a high schooler in Orange County, Barkley arrived on campus last year and earned the starting job as a freshman - just in time for the Trojans' decline in Pete Carroll's final season, followed by Carroll's abrupt departure for the Seattle Seahawks.

Yet Barkley, who turned 20 this week, has emerged as the Trojans' leader, never entertaining the possibility of transferring to avoid the bowl ban. After throwing five touchdown passes against Hawaii, he's eager for a strong start at the Coliseum, where he became the first USC quarterback to lose two home starts since Carson Palmer in 2001.

''We didn't leave the Coliseum on a good note last year, so it'll be good to try to fix that,'' Barkley said of the Trojans' regular season-ending loss to Arizona last December.

After chasing speedy Hawaii all over the field, the Trojans have bigger, brawnier problems with Virginia (1-0), which muscled to a 34-13 victory over Richmond and former USC quarterback Aaron Corp last week in a promising debut under coach Mike London.

Keith Payne, the Cavaliers' 255-pound tailback, rushed for four touchdowns on just 16 carries against the Spiders, showing off a battering-ram style that will test USC's defensive front. Virginia also showed skill through the air, with Marc Verica capably managing the game while passing for 283 yards and a score.

''It's a great opportunity to go on the road and play a very prestigious, storied and winning program,'' Verica said. ''It's going to be in the Coliseum, so it doesn't get much better than that. We also understand it's going to be a big challenge, but I think we're ready to embrace it.''

In preparation for Payne, USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin already made personnel changes this week to his line, which is likely to include sophomore Nick Perry after the talented end sat out the opener to rest his sprained ankle.

''I would be shocked if we don't play extremely well on defense,'' Lane Kiffin said.

And though Payne is a challenge, the Trojans are grateful to play against a prostyle offense more similar to their own after Hawaii's unorthodox approach embarrassed the USC defense while racking up 588 yards.

''It's going to be very nice,'' defensive tackle Armond Armstead said. ''When you play teams with the run-and-shoot stuff, there's a lot more you need to think about. Virginia runs a lot of the same stuff our offense does in practice every day, so we don't have to think about it as much.''

Virginia incredibly has never played in California in the history of a program that started in the 19th century. London sees the lengthy trip as a tremendous early season test - and not just because of the Trojans.

The Cavaliers traveled on Thursday to give them extra time to adjust their body clocks for a game that starts at 10:30 p.m. Charlottesville time.

''We'll continue to keep trying to educate them on the fact that it's 100-yard field, just like it is at Scott Stadium,'' London said. ''Whatever else happens outside of that, that's out of our control. We can control how we can play.''

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