Lane Kiffin posted evidence on the walls of Heritage Hall for his penalty-prone players to see. He talked about correcting the problem daily in team meetings and also before, during and after the Trojans' 17-14 victory over Virginia.
But two games into the season, the Trojans have accrued more penalty yardage than any team in college football.
So, USC's coach said Sunday that he would adopt what amounts to the silent treatment when it comes to penalties, which cost the Trojans at least one sure touchdown against Virginia and possibly more.
"Maybe our players are drawn to it because we put so much attention to it," Kiffin said during a conference call with reporters. "So we're going to go the other way with it and [we're] not going to talk about it all week, because it can't be worse."
USC begins preparations for Saturday's game at Minnesota after being penalized 11 times at Hawaii and 13 times against Virginia. The Trojans have a nation-worst 240 penalty yards.
Not coincidentally, the 2-0 Trojans have fallen two weeks in a row in the Associated Press poll. After starting the season at No. 14, the Trojans dropped two spots following their victory over Hawaii. On Sunday, they fell to No. 18.
Former coach Pete Carroll was not shy about publicly questioning why USC was regularly called for more penalties than their opponents, the subtext being that the Trojans' success made them targets for officials.
Kiffin dismissed that suggestion.
"There's a couple questionable calls, but I refuse to buy into that 'Because it's SC or people are jealous' or whatever the reasons are that people think that," Kiffin said. "I actually heard that [Sunday] in our staff meeting. Someone said that. That won't be said again around here."
Instead, Kiffin will take a cue from Carroll and not influence his players with the power of suggestion.
"It's not that it won't be noticed, but I'm not going to talk about it on a daily basis like I did last week," Kiffin said. "My predecessor's whole deal was, 'Whatever you talk about they draw toward.' So maybe I screwed that one up."
Upon further review
After Saturday night's victory, Kiffin had the air of a coach whose team had lost by 30 points.
He wasn't any more upbeat after watching film of the game.
"Pretty much the same," he said. "The defense dramatically improved, and the offense went the other way.
"We are 2-0, fortunately, which is what's remembered in the end."
Defensive players were not overly enthused after the game, especially after surrendering a touchdown with four seconds to play.
"It was an all-right night for us — not a great one," senior linebacker Malcolm Smith said.
Sophomore middle linebacker Devon Kennard said, "I feel like we're on our way back to where we want to be. We have a lot of potential that we haven't tapped into yet."
Dillon Baxter's debut was unspectacular — the freshman tailback rushed for 49 yards in nine carries and caught two passes — but Kiffin was encouraged.
"He's got a burst and the ability to make people miss, so we'll continue to hopefully expand his role," Kiffin said.
Baxter is listed as co-No. 2 on the depth chart with senior Allen Bradford. Junior Marc Tyler remains the starter.
USC's two touchdowns were firsts for tight end Jordan Cameron and receiver Brandon Carswell.
Cameron, a fifth-year senior, had never caught a pass in a game before quarterback Matt Barkley found him in the left corner of the end zone for a four-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Cameron also made a key fourth-down catch in the third quarter.
Cameron, however, suffered a concussion attempting to field Virginia's last-second onside kick, Kiffin said.
Carswell, a fourth-year junior, had seriously considered taking advantage of the exemption that allows Trojans juniors and seniors to transfer without penalty because of an NCAA-mandated two-year bowl ban.
Carswell tweeted during the summer that he was heading to Cincinnati but later changed his mind after meeting with Kiffin. He had seven career receptions but no touchdowns before catching an 11-yard scoring pass from Barkley with one second left before halftime.