USC's Chris Galippo, left, and Shane Horton, right, tackle Arizona's… (Danny Moloshok / Associated…)
Monte Kiffin, USC's assistant head coach for defense, grinned when he saw reporters heading his way after practice Tuesday.
Trojans fans are atwitter about major defensive breakdowns in the last two games, but Kiffin cautioned that things are not as dire as some believe.
Arizona State scored 43 points in a victory over USC. The Trojans surrendered 554 yards and 37 first downs in a 48-41 victory Saturday over Arizona.
"We're better than maybe it would look like," Kiffin said.
USC failed to produce a consistent pass rush against Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, gave up huge chunks of passing yardage in the middle of the field and allowed the Wildcats to double their season rushing average. The Trojans also missed numerous tackles.
"We just have to play better as a group," Kiffin said.
The Trojans' main problem, according to Kiffin, is third-down defense, though Arizona State and Arizona each converted a modest six of 12 third-down situations.
"You can't get off [the field] every time, but when you have the opportunity … and you've got the right call made and the right situation stuff, you have to," he said.
USC would blitz more, Kiffin said, but the Trojans have consistently put themselves in third-and-three or third-and-four situations that allow quarterbacks to release the ball quickly.
"We've got to cover better [and] we've got to rush better," he said.
Are the Trojans problems fixable?
"As long as we keep a good attitude we'll get better," he said. "We still have a good attitude. We've just got to keep working hard."
Sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter, who did not play against Arizona, hopes to use the bye week to propel himself into the game plan against California on Oct. 13.
"Keep pushing, that's the only thing I can do," he said Tuesday. "It gets more frustrating every week but you can't really do anything. They're the coaches; I'm just the player, so I've got to wait."
Starter Marc Tyler has 72 carries, D.J. Morgan 30 and Curtis McNeal 24. Baxter has nine.
"I feel like they haven't given me the most opportunity yet to show what I can do," said Baxter, who emphasized that he was not complaining.
Asked if he felt he had earned the opportunity," Baxter said, "On the field? Yes, definitely."
And off the field?
"Every once in a while I'll be late to a couple classes," he said.
Head coach Lane Kiffin said Baxter would get opportunities this week, "to show that he wants to do things right and be consistent with them from A to Z within our offense."
Asked if that was why Baxter was not playing, Kiffin said "it was a combination of things" and, "It's not just about carrying the ball and making guys miss. It's all the protections, and it's all the little things within it to make sure your staff and your own players, including your quarterback, feel confidence in you."
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was not at practice because he is attending to an ailing family member in Louisiana. … Receivers coach Ted Gilmore was absent because he was recruiting, Lane Kiffin said.