Spring Ball Notes - A change in culture and the growth of Matt Barkley

Tomorrow's Scrimmage at the Coliseum will be the final chapter in spring ball for 2010.

Coming off what some would call a tumultuous 2009 campaign, the resignation of Pete Carroll and the hiring of Lane Kiffin, then couple that with the NCAA's pending findings in regard to the Bush/Mayo mess I think it is safe to say that the team has been through a lot.

Injuries have been the order of the day during spring ball. At one time there were only six healthy offensive lineman. The running game sputtered at times and the defensive secondary had some issues. We saw some spectacular plays by RoJo, D-Bax and Prater. Barkley definitely improved from an up and down freshman season.

Lane Kiffin came to USC looking to change the current attitude at USC back to the way it was when he was at USC during the incredible run.

He set the tone early in saying that he didn't have a depth chart and that no ones starting job was guaranteed. He also stated laying the wood to players who missed class, fumbled the ball or who generally wasn't giving it 100%.

"It's more tightly run now. Businesslike, more serious," linebacker Malcolm Smith said. "We have to clean the locker room -- seriously -- now. They run us if you miss a class. There's no room for error. They've tightened the ship up."

According to Kiffin, if a player is "even one minute late" to a class, study hall or a session with a tutor, they have to meet Orgeron at 5 a.m. for extra running.

Smith's tone and expression makes the following line superfluous: "That is something you don't want to do."

As much as we all love Pete Carroll a change in culture was needed. The 2009 season was missing the fire that we had seen in previous seasons. Guys were mailing it and there were games where you could see that the team just didn't look prepared.

We have noted Kiffin's change in attitude before.

Kiffin saw the problems and looks to change the future...

Kiffin is aware he's in a bit of a pickle. Reporters repeatedly ask him about the team he inherited. If he notes shortcomings and concerns, he's seen as criticizing Carroll, who put Kiffin's career on the fast track when he handed him the keys of the Trojans offense in 2005. But Kiffin isn't good at not telling folks what's on his mind.

"It's not what it was when we left here," he said.

Kiffin sees sloppy play, noting the Trojans ranked 114th and 88th in the nation in penalties the past two seasons. He sees a lack of toughness when players skip practices and workouts because of minor injuries. He sees the "USC way" of players leaving early for the NFL draft only if they are first-round picks being abandoned -- see Everson Griffen, Damian Williams and Joe McKnight.

He sees a team that got its butt kicked last fall, posting the two worst losses of the Carroll Era.

"We have to figure out what went wrong because all of the sudden something really changed," Kiffin said.

The Kiffin Way means publicly calling out players, as he did when he stripped cornerback T.J. Bryant and receiver De'Von Flournoy of their No. 1 jerseys because they were under performing. Or when he said the running backs "don't have a clue right now on what we need to do to be a championship running team."

That's huge...

Kiffin is not afraid to call out players who are not performing up to standards. I don't remember Pete Carroll ever doing that. In fact the last time I remember that happening at USC was when Kiffin called out Dwayne Jarrett in the beginning of the 2006 season.

Believing in yourself that you can win is much different than walking off the bus expecting that you will win. It takes effort and I think last years team had a number of players that didn't put in the effort.

- - -

So, lets look at Matt Barkley...

Barkley has not had a pass intercepted in three scrimmages, a huge leap for a player who seemingly could not avoid turnovers last spring and had 14 passes picked off last season.

Barkley said Thursday that he was looking forward to finishing strong Saturday when USC concludes spring practice with the annual Trojan Huddle scrimmage at the Coliseum.

"I made it a major point not to turn the ball over and protect it this spring," said Barkley, who has completed 41 of 67 passes for 537 yards and eight touchdowns in the scrimmages. "It might be unsatisfactory feelings-wise when you have to throw the ball away, but I'm really happy with the fact that I'm not giving the ball away."

Coach Lane Kiffin wants to see Barkley finish without an interception.

"I don't want to jinx him," Kiffin said, "but keep the shutout going."

I think what Kiffin brings to the table is his experience in working with talented QB's. Kiffin learned from the best, Norm Chow. He took a QB who seemed dead in the water in Jonathan Crompton and got him drafted. Heck Crompton's parents were so impressed that they have pledged their support for Kiffin at USC...

Arguably, his biggest coaching accomplishment was improving quarterback Jonathan Crompton to the point that he got drafted in the fifth round by San Diego Chargers.

Crompton's father was so grateful that he called Kiffin and promised his family would be Trojans forever.

That is a pretty big statement when you consider how Tennessee fans became so unhinged when a coach it would appear the hated took his dream job.

Aside from Barkley being a true freshman last season he had two other things going against him...1) was new OC who was new to the college game and 2) a head coach who at time put him in tough spots because he wanted to micro manage everything. With the defense at times not being able to keep opposing offenses off the field it put Barkley in a position to have to be the hero...that is pretty tough for a true freshman.

Ted Miller offers some other interesting insights in how he has dealt with Barkley.

Kiffin immediately made it clear that Barkley wouldn't be handed the starting job, despite his passing for 2,735 yards and ranking third in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency as -- again, worth noting -- a true freshman.

Further, USC went 9-4 in 2009. It had lost nine games over the previous seven seasons. Carroll's wasn't the only big ego that was wounded last year, and those left behind are motivated to confront their newly empowered doubters, whoever captains the ship going forward.

"Last year was unacceptable, uncharacteristic of USC and this football program," Barkley said. "We expect something greater than that. We hold ourselves to a higher standard."

Kiffin essentially got in Barkley's face...

Still, Kiffin doesn't appear eager to mythologize Barkley, as Carroll did -- recall all that "outlier" talk that some reporters (cough, cough) ate up. In fact, one of the first things Kiffin told Barkley was he believed the quarterback was chubby.

Sometimes you need to get punched in the mouth.

I don't think anyone is surprised that Barkley is running away with the starting job. It looke like he has really put the effort into the little things to improve his game.

Tomorrow Barkley gets to put his final touch on spring ball...lets hope he produces in the way he has up to this point.

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