Trojans' First Priority is Fixing Problems on Third Down - LA Times

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times

USC rarely breaks from routine in its practice format.

But continuing problems converting third downs have forced the 11th-ranked Trojans to double their emphasis this week as they prepare for Saturday's game against No. 25 Stanford at the Coliseum.

"It calls for at least that amount of attention at this point," Coach Pete Carroll said after Wednesday's workout.

The Trojans' 32% conversion rate though nine games ranks 106th among 120 major college teams.

In last week's 14-9 victory at Arizona State, USC was two for 13 on third down and the offense produced only one touchdown.

"That starts with me," said Jeremy Bates, the Trojans' first-year quarterbacks coach and play-caller.

Tight end Anthony McCoy and fullback Stanley Havili did not play in most of the last three games.

Bates, however, refused to blame injuries for the struggles of an offense that has sputtered on third down and was outgained by Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State.

While penalties and dropped passes have been problematic, quarterback Matt Barkley's play is not an issue, according to Bates.

"I think Matt's playing great, I really do," Bates said. "We've got to give him a chance -- we've got to call the right plays for him and give him opportunities.

"The guy's a stud. . . . We've got to protect a little better for him, but he's doing everything we ask."

Still, Barkley has obviously struggled. In the last six quarters, the freshman has completed 12 of 38 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions.

"Stats are for someone that just looks at a stat sheet," Bates said. "We're watching the film. We're watching what he does on the field grading him every play."

Havili's return to the starting lineup could help improve the Trojans' third-down performance against Stanford.

If McCoy is sufficiently recovered from a high ankle sprain, he also would add an important dimension.

But regardless of personnel, the Trojans must execute more precisely against a Stanford team coming off an impressive victory over Oregon.

"You try to find your things you can really count on doing well," Carroll said, "and you make sure you call them in situations where you have a chance to get 'em to work."

Kennard moves

With Michael Morgan nursing a chipped bone in his wrist, freshman Devon Kennard could play significant snaps or possibly start at strong-side linebacker.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Kennard has played defensive end since training camp and started at that spot for the first time last week against Arizona State.

But with Morgan hurt and Jarvis Jones still sidelined because of a neck injury, Kennard has been working at linebacker.

"He's a hammer out there," Carroll said.

Kennard is excited about the move, which requires him to utilize pass-coverage skills only occasionally called for as an end.

"I've gotten better at it and have a way better understanding of it," he said. "I feel like I'll be fine."

Quick hits

Defensive end Everson Griffen (toe), linebacker Malcolm Smith (shoulder) and receiver Brandon Carswell (toe) completed most of practice. All are expected to be available in some capacity for Saturday's game, Carroll said. Receiver Damian Williams (ankle) did not practice and remains doubtful.