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USC looks for more decisive win against Hawaii this time

USC FOOTBALL

Trojans beat Hawaii, 49-36, two years ago but are 40-point favorites to win Saturday's opener. Assistant head coach Monte Kiffin is hoping for a better showing from the defense.

August 29, 2012|By Gary Klein

The results were embarrassing the last time Monte Kiffin coached against Hawaii.

USC won, 49-36, at Honolulu, but multiple missed tackles and apparent confusion in the Trojans' defense put the unit's architect under fire.

Two years later, USC is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason media poll, No. 3 in the coaches' poll and a 40-point favorite over Hawaii in Saturday's opener at the Coliseum.

"I hope we play better than we did two years ago," Kiffin said Wednesday.

Kiffin has simplified the defense since 2010. The unit now features a mostly veteran back seven.

But the defensive line remains a major question mark because of inexperience and a lack of depth.

Nose tackle Antwaun Woods is one of several freshmen who will be playing in their first game.

"I'm excited but nervous," he said. "Mostly excited."

The 6-foot-1, 295-pound Woods was a redshirt last season. He has lost about 35 pounds since arriving from Woodland Hills Taft High.

"I feel lighter," he said. "When I'm tired, I'm able to push harder and keep going."

Leonard Williams, a 6-5, 270-pound freshman tackle from Daytona Beach, Fla., said he was still learning but was prepared for his Trojans debut.

"The first game," he said, "came pretty quick."

Style points

Coach Lane Kiffin is conscious of the glitz needed to attract the attention of Los Angeles sports fans.

"L.A.'s a town that isn't really fired up about winning games, 14-10, and showing up," he said. "You've got a lot to compete with, so there is a Showtime element to it.

"There's a style factor to it, obviously, that was here before in the great runs."

Numbers game

Junior linebacker Will Andrew, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship last year, apparently was caught in the shuffle to trim the roster to an NCAA sanctions-mandated limit of 75 scholarship players.

Kiffin renewed the scholarships of senior offensive lineman Abe Markowitz and senior linebacker Tony Burnett, both former walk-ons. Senior punter Kyle Negrete, a walk-on who started in 2011, was awarded a scholarship this week.

"Any time we award a walk-on a scholarship, it's always a one-year situation," Kiffin said. "They're never guaranteed longer than that, and there's all kinds of circumstances that change."

Andrew, from Huntington Beach, played in six games last season on special teams and as a backup linebacker. He said he knew the scholarship was guaranteed for only one year.

"I've got to still continue to work hard on defense and special teams," Andrew said. "Anything can happen in a game, so I'll continue to prepare the way I always have."

Quick hits

Middle linebacker Lamar Dawson said he expected to play against Hawaii. ... Linebacker Simione Vehikite, jailed in May after pleading no contest to two felony counts related to his involvement in a 2011 automobile accident, returned to practice. Vehikite was released from jail this week, his attorney said. A school official said Kiffin would address Vehikite's status Thursday.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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