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September 12, 2010USC was "outcoached," in this one, Lane Kiffin said. What other explanation was there.
"We were at home" and "had great players" but didn't make great plays," Kiffin said after USC's 17-14 win over Virginia at the Coliseum.
"We barely won the game," he said. "There's nothing positive to take from it . . . We expected a much better performance than that."
To a man, except for maybe senior Joe Houston, whose first-ever Coliseum field goal, a 34-yarder with 5:52 left in the game, proved to be the difference, this was a major downer.
"Extremely disappointed," Kiffin said, with a word that was heard every other sentence after the game from the USC players, coaches and the fans who stayed until the end.
Really, really disappointed.
"The most disappointed I've ever been in a win," Kiffin said. "I'm most disappointed for the USC family. The crowd was great and we disappointed them. It wasn't like the old days at all."
Unless the old days consisted of last week's disappointing opener at Hawai'i.
"The most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in," Kiffin said.
"Our heads were down, nobody was celebrating," defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was saying even though the defense did show some real improvement over last week.
They'd expected to improve, and improve big this week. Now that date has been moved.
"There was no improvement," Kiffin said, with a laugh at how quickly he was about to change his tune. "Now I expect the biggest improvement to come between Week 2 and Week 3."
Nothing was more disappointing about this three-point win over an outmanned Virginia team on a penalties-aplenty night than the way it took down an upbeat-to-start 81,375. That's because a second straight underdog ended up outgaining the Trojans, although by just 340 yards to 329 this time, and 22 first downs to 18.
And yet there was something more disappointing. It was the way USC managed to pile up a second-straight double-digit penalty night with triple-digit yardage -- 13 penalties for an out-of-sight 140 yards.
And not just any old penalties.
"Critical penalties on big plays," Kiffin said. "A holding penalty on a 50-yard touchdown."
Quarterback Matt Barkley didn't pull any punches. "Penalties killed us," Barkley said. "We had too many plays called back."
Like the rest of his offensive teammates, Barkley didn't look as sharp as he'd been in Hawai'i, hitting on 20 of 35 passes for USC's two touchdowns with 202 yards and no interceptions.
The touchdowns came in the final 3:43 of the first half as USC went into its two-minute drill twice and scored on a four-yard pass from Barkley to a leaping Jordan Cameron followed by a scrambling Barkley to Brandon Carswell from 11 yards out with one second left in the half.
The amazing thing about that was Virginia also scored between those USC touchdowns, as 21 of the game's 31 points came in that amazing 3:43 before intermission.
Barkley would miss badly with an underthrown ball to Ronald Johnson on what should have been a touchdown from 50 yards out but turned into two major penalties setting USC back 25 yards on the play -- a net 75-yard loss.
One other disappointment for USC was how the Cavs also beat the Trojans on the ground, 150 yards to 127, as the run game declined precipitously with the failure of the USC offensive line to get the point of attack blocked almost ever.
"They were just hitting the gaps low and hard, and shifting right before the play," tackle Matt Kalil said. "I know I kinda' got off my game. I think we were nervous to start and we just had a lot of little things. They're things that can be fixed."
Kiffin wasn't so sure it would be that easy.
"I didn't see much from them [the offensive line]. Critical penalties, sacks, sack fumbles. Didn't see much at all."
Only freshman Dillon Baxter had any success at all, and he came on late, with nine carries for 49 yards, a 5.4 average. Baxter was the the only USC back with better than a 3.7 yards-a-carry average. And his success mostly came because he's the lone running back who can turn a badly blocked play into plus yardage.
"I thought I'd get more of a chance early," said Baxter, in his first game after sitting out the opener on suspension. But he carried the ball just twice before halftime.
I had a little nerves at first," said Baxter, whose lone thought originally was to not lose the ball. "But then it felt just like practice."
USC's defenders felt better about their improvement in this game than maybe Kiffin did.
"I'm not encouraged at all by the defense," Kiffin said. "We expected a much better performance than that. We need a lot of improvement overall."
Where USC did get improveent on defense was from sophomore safety T.J. McDonald, who had a game-high 14 tackles and a game-saving interception in the end zone in the first quarter to keep USC in the game.
"My pride was hurting," McDonald said. "We definitely came into this game with a chip on our shoulder, just looking to finish stornger and get better."
UVa quarterback Marc Verica would like to have that one back. "I knew it was a stupid play," he said of the ball McDonald picked. "It was a costly decision but you have to put it behind you."
For the second straight game, USC did not finish stong, allowing UVa to to drive 78 yards on 13 plays in just 2:31 with a pair of USC timeouts extending play long enough for UVa to score with 0:04 on the clock.
"We've got to get into the weight room and do some more conditioning," Casey said, admitting that the entire defensive line was gassed for a second straight game at the end. Although give Casey his due. He managed 10 tackles equalling the total of the next four defensive linemen combined.
And the rotation up front got much shorter when Nick Perry had to leave his first game when his rehabbed high ankle sprain would no longer hold up and he finished with it in a walking boot.
"I'm proud of our guys and their effort," UVa coach Mike London said. "To come here, travel and play and go toe-to-toe with these guys is great. We had a turnover in the red zone and had chances to score. Could have, would have, should have."
FOOTNOTED: USC is undefeated in its last 32 home night games . . . USC has won its last 13 home openers . . . Barkley's 202 yards passing marks the ninth time he's passed for more than 200 yards in a game . . . Cameron's TD catch was the first of his career . . . other than Perry, he was the only USC player dinged in the game with a stinger after he came down on his head . . . DaJohn Harris' third-quarter sack was the first of his career.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.