USC linebacker Dion Bailey intercepts a pass intended for Cal's Marvin… (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images )
USC coaches and players constantly talk about the need to finish.
Finish plays. Finish workouts. Finish games.
The Trojans, fresh off an impressive victory over undermanned Colorado, are now on the eve of the final quarter of the season with Washington, No. 6 Oregon and UCLA coming up the next three weeks.
USC is counting on several players' returning from injury, including tailback Marc Tyler, linebacker Dion Bailey and running back/receiver George Farmer.
"Getting those guys back will be a key to how we finish," Coach Lane Kiffin said Saturday.
Kiffin was encouraged, for both the near-term and more distant future, by the performance of several young players against Colorado.
Freshman Lamar Dawson started at middle linebacker in place of senior Chris Galippo. The Kentucky native finished with four tackles. And though he also missed two, he played well enough to hold onto the job for next Saturday's game against Washington.
Kiffin said he told Galippo early last week that Dawson would be starting against Colorado.
"I just told him he had two choices: He could practice his tail off and prove us wrong and earn his spot back or he could sit around and pout," Kiffin said.
Galippo responded with three tackles, including one for a loss, and also broke up a pass against Colorado.
While quarterback Matt Barkley passed for a school-record six touchdowns, sophomore receiver Robert Woods and freshman receiver Marqise Lee and freshman running back Amir Carlisle also had starring roles.
Woods and Lee both caught two touchdown passes and amassed at least 124 receiving yards.
Lee dropped a certain 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter but came back the same series and hauled in a 25-yard scoring pass.
"I was too happy, and I was trying to run," Lee said of his miscue. "I knew I was capable of scoring, and I tried to run before I actually caught the ball."
Like Woods, Carlisle has nursed an ankle injury since training camp. But he rushed for 90 yards in 10 carries and caught two passes, including a screen pass that he turned into Barkley's final touchdown.
"We just have to keep putting together [recruiting] classes like that and we'll have a good future," Kiffin said.
Safety T.J. McDonald played the second half against Colorado after sitting out the first two quarters because of a suspension by the Pacific 12 Conference for making an illegal hit against a Stanford player.
McDonald made four tackles, but Kiffin said the usually aggressive junior looked tentative.
"It's probably messing with him like it would anybody," Kiffin said. "He goes from playing and making full-speed decisions and now he's not supposed to do that.
"I think it's affecting him. He probably won't admit it though."
Kiffin praised punter Kyle Negrete, who has consistently put kicks inside the 20-yard line and avoided touchbacks. "He's done an unbelievable job," Kiffin said.... Walk-on quarterback John Manoogian and walk-on defensive lineman Eric Childs were among the players who played for the first time against Colorado. "We haven't had a lot of opportunities to clear our bench off," Kiffin said.... The Trojans resume practice Tuesday.