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Defense, running game do a lot, Matt Barkley only a little in final spring scrimmage

USC FOOTBALL FYI

The junior quarterback, around whom Coach Lane Kiffin is building the offense, has two passes intercepted during 121-play scrimmage. But tailbacks Curtis McNeal, Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan shine.

April 23, 2011|By Gary Kelin
  • Dillon Baxter, shown trying to break free from Dallas Kelley, ran for 104 yards and scored on a short touchdown run during the Trojans' final spring scrimmage.
Dillon Baxter, shown trying to break free from Dallas Kelley, ran for 104… (Christina House / For The…)

The line of fans waiting for Matt Barkley's autograph stretched the width of the Coliseum field Saturday after USC's final spring scrimmage.

The junior quarterback had not exactly enjoyed a signature performance: He had two passes intercepted against a defense that never blitzed during the 121-play scrimmage.

But neither Coach Lane Kiffin nor Barkley seemed too concerned on a day when tailbacks flashed breakaway ability and the defense showed improvement.

Photos: USC's final spring scrimmage

Still, with so many players sidelined because of injuries, Kiffin does not have a good feel for what his team will be like in the upcoming season.

"Hopefully, we're really good on defense and really good on special teams," Kiffin said. "We've got a lot of work to do on offense."

It remains clear, however, that Kiffin plans to build the offense around Barkley and receiver Robert Woods.

USC's D.J. Morgan gets chance to display his skills

Only half of the combination played Saturday, Woods sitting out because of a sprained ankle. He said he suffered the injury rebounding shots for a women's basketball player Friday at the Galen Center.

"All the coaches pretty much had the same response — 'stay off the court,'" Woods said. "They were shaking their heads at me but I know it was my fault. I take full responsibility and definitely learned my lesson."

Barkley bore the brunt of Woods' absence, the passing game stunted by several drops and misalignments. Senior receiver Brandon Carswell also sat out the second half after suffering a concussion.

Barkley completed 22 of 42 passes for 212 yards. The interceptions were by cornerback Brian Baucham and linebacker Dallas Kelley.

"Just a lot of mental mistakes across the board," Barkley said, "including the quarterback position."

Tailbacks Curtis McNeal, Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan all had their moments in the absence of returning starter Marc Tyler, who is recovering from a concussion.

The 5-foot-7 McNeal rushed for 107 yards and scored on touchdown runs of 49 and 11 yards. He credited an offensive line that featured only one returning starter.

"They took so much criticism throughout the whole spring," he said. "Today they just came out and played and I pretty much just did my part."

McNeal, academically ineligible last season, said he was confident that he would be cleared for the fall.

Baxter, playing despite ankle soreness, ran for 104 yards and scored on a short touchdown run. He also tossed a short pass to Barkley on the final play.

"Last year . . . I kind of got down on myself because I wasn't doing what I expected myself to do," Baxter said. "It felt good to get a couple long runs."

Morgan broke loose for a long run during one of the first series but his day ended early because of a shoulder injury.

And as it did in a scrimmage last week, the defense mostly held the offense in check.

Junior safety T.J. McDonald said the strong performance will carry over into the fall.

"We're a year better," he said, "and we know what the coaches expect."

Quick hits

Tight end Rhett Ellison suffered a back injury, but Kiffin said X-rays were negative. . . . Tight end Xavier Grimble had eight receptions for 73 yards. . . . Freshman kicker Andre Heidari missed field-goal attempts of 42 and 52 yards. He made a 27-yarder. . . . Kelley, a transfer from Chaffey College, had eight tackles and one of the day's most impressive plays, reaching out with his left hand to intercept a pass by Barkley. . . . Jesse Scroggins completed six of 15 passes for 68 yards with one pass intercepted, by defensive back Anthony Brown.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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