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USC FOOTBALL FYI

USC Coach Lane Kiffin is seriously worried about Minnesota

The Trojans are favored by three touchdowns, but Kiffin says the team has no reason to be overconfident.

August 31, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill has some words for running back Donnell Kirkwood and the offense during a spring practice at Bierman Field in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill has some words for running back Donnell Kirkwood… (Richard TsongTaatarii…)

USC is coming off its worst season since 2001, but the Trojans are a three-touchdown favorite over Minnesota for the opener Saturday at the Coliseum.

Asked Wednesday whether overconfidence might be an issue for his No. 25 Trojans, Coach Lane Kiffin went all Lou Holtz in his response.

"I would be blown away if this team's overconfident or anybody is — No. 1 because we're not very good," Kiffin said. "And No. 2 because these guys are very, very well-coached and have a dynamic playmaker touching the ball every snap."

Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill is in his first season after successful stints at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. The Golden Gophers' offense features 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior MarQueis Gray, a converted receiver who has not played quarterback extensively since high school.

USC has not lost an opener since 1997, when Florida State defeated the Trojans, 14-7, at the Coliseum.

Last season, USC defeated Minnesota, 32-21, at Minneapolis.

Running back Duane Bennett and receiver Da'Jon McKnight are among the top returning players for the Golden Gophers, but Trojans coaches and players have been studying Northern Illinois game tape.

"We haven't spent much time on the actual personnel … outside of the unique guys like the quarterback," Kiffin said. "The rest of it has been scheme work."

Most of Kill's assistants were on his Northern Illinois staff. Several also coached with him at Southern Illinois.

"They know what they're doing," Kiffin said. "They do things really, really well and they just keep repeating them."

Lamar Dawson ready

Freshman middle linebacker Lamar Dawson has been a quick study.

The 6-2, 235-pound Kentucky native worked with the first-team defense for nearly two weeks when Chris Galippo was sidelined because of a sprained shoulder and he could play extensively in the opener.

"When I was getting most of the reps, [Galippo] would be in the back correcting me and telling me what to do," Dawson said. "It's helped a lot."

Dawson has not been overburdened by calling signals for the defense. But he acknowledged it was a challenge.

"In high school I only had like four defenses," he said. "Now I've got all kinds of defenses to learn."

Kiffin is not surprised by Dawson's progress, citing his high school academic record, leadership skills and the feedback USC coaches received from others while recruiting him.

"Everybody around him raved about his maturity, and that's what allowed him to do what he's done so far," Kiffin said.

Quick hits

Javorious Allen, a freshman running back from Florida who was certified by the NCAA Eligibility Center this week, will arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday and begin classes Friday, Kiffin said. … USC hired Rick Carr as director of athletic security. Carr's responsibilities include security issues for all 21 Trojans teams and coordinating travel logistics, a school official said.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimes.com

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