Shareece Wright had been holding it in.
The senior cornerback, a team captain, wanted to speak up and talk to teammates about the way the Trojans' defense has been playing but did not want to overstep his bounds.
On Thursday, with Coach Lane Kiffin's blessing, Wright addressed the entire defense, which is ranked 100th nationally and 116th against the pass.
"I needed to take that leadership role," Wright said. "I just told the truth from a player's perspective.
"Guys hear it a lot from coaches and they keep hearing it and nothing changes. Everyone, myself included, needs to do things right. It's not the play calls. It's us. The players weren't making the plays they were supposed to make."
Wright is the senior member of a secondary that has included freshman Nickell Robey and sophomore safeties T.J. McDonald and Jawanza Starling.
The younger players have been beaten for touchdowns, but Wright said there was plenty of blame to go around as the Trojans prepare for Saturday's Pacific 10 Conference game against California at the Coliseum.
Wright has broken up four passes, forced and recovered a fumble and also blocked a field-goal attempt. But he has no interceptions.
"I don't feel like I've been playing my best," he said. "I need to take it to another level and step up and make way more plays.
"I'm just glad Coach Kiffin gave me approval to say what needed to be said. Hopefully, it works out."
Ayles making impression
With tight end Jordan Cameron not practicing because of a sore knee, junior Blake Ayles has taken advantage of increased opportunities and could play more against Cal.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Ayles had six receptions as a freshman and seven as a sophomore but has not caught a pass this season while playing behind Rhett Ellison and Cameron.
"You can tell he's changed his mind-set of getting in the playbook more and studying his stuff because he knows he's got that chance," quarterback Matt Barkley said. "He's been doing a good job."
Answering the bell
Kiffin was pleased with the way the Trojans bounced back against Stanford after a disappointing loss against Washington.
He has maintained throughout the week that motivation will not be a concern despite the Trojans' having suffered two defeats and being ineligible to play in a bowl game.
"We need to do a better job coaching but … the players responded, as far as coming out and playing very hard last week," Kiffin said. "And so I expect them to do the same this week."
USC's stepped-up compliance effort after NCAA sanctions includes a ban on former players' attending practices.
Former linebacker Rey Maualuga, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, was turned away at the practice facility gate when he stopped by hoping to watch the Trojans.
Defensive lineman Wes Horton (back), running back Dillon Baxter (foot) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (knee) did not practice.