Lane Kiffin is a long way from Southeastern Conference country, watching from afar as the Cam Newton saga unfolds at Auburn.
As Tennessee's coach, Kiffin recruited Newton when the Florida transfer was playing in junior college. Kiffin, hired by USC in January, said the quarterback and his father made an unofficial visit to Knoxville.
"We didn't offer him a scholarship, which doesn't make me look very smart, but we did talk to him," Kiffin said Wednesday. "We just went in a different direction. He was a very exciting player that wasn't necessarily a perfect system fit for what we were doing, but we knew he would be great in other systems."
The controversy surrounding Newton, a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, began last week. ESPN and the New York Times reported that a former Mississippi State player said a person claiming to represent the Newton family had sought money from the school to land the quarterback.
Asked if the Newtons, or someone claiming to represent the family, ever said money would be required for Tennessee to sign Newton, Kiffin said, "No."
Kiffin said his experience in the football-crazy SEC — "You hear so many things down there" — gave him a unique perspective.
"I remember so many things said about me that weren't accurate," Kiffin said. "It was a good lesson learned. If something comes on the radio or in print, I don't think there are any facts to it at all until someone shows some proof. This is a perfect example."
Woods looking better
Receiver Robert Woods, limited in the Trojans' victory over Arizona State after being hospitalized last week, increased his practice workload and appears on track to be at full strength Saturday at Arizona.
Woods was hospitalized for back pain and vomiting last Thursday. After catching at least seven passes in each of the previous three games, the freshman had only three receptions against Arizona State.
"Not really having Robert, you could feel the difference," Kiffin said.
Using his head
Offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who blocked an Arizona State extra-point kick that was scooped up by Torin Harris and returned for two points, said he made the play with his helmet.
"I knew the guy was going to try and cut my legs out, so I just used that to get to the gap and popped right over," said Smith, who is 6 feet 5. "I knew I got close enough, but I didn't know I was going to get it with my helmet."
Smith has been playing well despite two sprained ankles.
"Everyone plays with pain," he said. "You just push through it."
Starting left tackle Matt Kalil (ankle) did not practice but tailback Marc Tyler (ankle) increased his reps and appears on track to play Saturday. … Kiffin on senior tailback Allen Bradford, who dropped the ball but was not charged with a fumble on his only carry against Arizona State: "It's been tough for him. He's battled through some injuries and then he has not had much success as of late in the limited carries that he's had and he's put the ball on the ground. … That's the most important thing that we talk about and do here is take care of the ball."