Kiffin so-so on USC’s performance

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to receives a pass but is blocked by Southern California freshman Nickell Robey Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mark Vancleave

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to receives a pass but is blocked by Southern California freshman Nickell Robey Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Josh Katzenstein

At the 7:15 mark in the first quarter Saturday, No. 18 Southern California trailed for the first time since first-year head coach Lane Kiffin took over. Kiffin wasnâÄôt worried about the 7-0 deficit to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. Nor was he fazed when the Trojans trailed 14-13 early in the second half. âÄúI wasnâÄôt really worried,âÄù Kiffin said after his team beat the Gophers 32-21. âÄúI really just think about what we can do to play better, to perform better.âÄù Kiffin told his team it wasnâÄôt going to be easy to beat a Minnesota team coming off a 41-38 home loss to South Dakota, a Football Championship Subdivision team (formerly Division I-AA). The Gophers seemed poised to bounce back. âÄúWhat happened the week before never means anything,âÄù said Kiffin, who is 3-0 in his first season as a head coach at USC. âÄúThese guys weâÄôre going to come out fired up. This was going to be their Super Bowl. A win over SC IâÄôm sure wouldâÄôve made a lot of pain go away from last week.âÄù But Kiffin didnâÄôt care about the GophersâÄô pain. In fact, it seemed as though he wanted to salt some wounds. With an 11-point lead and 11 seconds remaining in the game, the Trojans didnâÄôt take a knee. Instead they handed the ball off to senior running back C.J. Gable, who ran for 10 yards. âÄúWe had four linemen who hadnâÄôt played at all. We had a receiver who hadnâÄôt been in a game this whole season, so we gave them a chance to let them play,âÄù Kiffin said of the decision. The Trojans also went for three two-point conversions, the third coming when they took the 32-14 lead. Based on the defensive look each time, Kiffin said it was the favorable-percentage play. Kiffin, who graduated from Bloomington Jefferson High School, has deep roots in Minnesota, but heâÄôs all in for USC now. And though he didn’t say it directly, Kiffin suggested that heâÄôs glad he was on the opposing sideline âÄî the better sideline. âÄú[Quarterback Matt Barkley] had gone through two games without any interceptions,âÄù he said. âÄúTo have two in one game, thatâÄôll get us beat down the road with tougher competition.âÄù USC held Minnesota to 83 yards on the ground on 37 carries, in part because Kiffin knew it was coming. In their first two games, the Gophers ran for a total of 485 yards. âÄúIâÄôm sure that was their game plan, to keep the game close, to run it, keep the clock moving I would guess,âÄù Kiffin said. âÄúTheir plan was working well for a while. It seemed to be ultra-conservative, but thatâÄôs a good plan if youâÄôre a big underdog playing at home.âÄù Jurrell Casey, a junior defensive tackle, expected Minnesota to run, but he didnâÄôt think they would keep running after the Trojans proved they could shut the run down. âÄúIt was real surprising they kept going to the run even though they kept getting stuffed,âÄù Casey said. âÄúI thought they were going to go to the air but hey, let them keep running and weâÄôll keep stopping it.âÄù While Kiffin was in many ways disappointed with the victory, Gophers coach Tim Brewster tried to find the positives in the loss. He thought the GophersâÄô running game did well despite the results. âÄúI thought we did some great things with the run game,âÄù he said. âÄúWe knew it was going to be pounding on concrete. You don’t break that thing open on the first swing. YouâÄôve got to stay with it and believe in it and keep pounding it, and I thought we did a great job with that.âÄù The Trojans are substantially better than the Gophers and proved that Saturday. Their third-string running back, senior Allen Bradford, ran 12 times for 131 yards. His 56-yard touchdown, untouched, gave USC a 32-14 lead and sealed the win with 8:32 remaining in the game. MinnesotaâÄôs final touchdown came against the TrojansâÄô backups, but Kiffin was still upset it happened. Even with a road win in what he described as âÄúvery loudâÄù stadium, he wasnâÄôt thrilled. âÄúWe obviously didnâÄôt play perfect by any means,âÄù Kiffin said. âÄúPlayed extremely poorly on offense early, especially. Played well on defense for most of the game until the last drive with the backups.âÄù The Trojans did struggle early, but played well late âÄî when it matters. USC only converted one of its five third downs in the first half. In the second half, the Trojans converted five of six. âÄúThis does feel like a win,âÄù said Barkley who threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns. âÄúNot completely satisfied with this just because of the offensive production, but it does feel good to win like this. âÄúBut itâÄôs still not a complete game, what weâÄôve talked about trying to do.âÄù Kiffin and USC will return to Los Angeles to focus on how to win better. The Gophers, meanwhile, will begin to talk about halting their current losing streak. âÄúWinning is what it’s all about, especially at this level,âÄù quarterback Adam Weber said. âÄúIt’s very frustrating.âÄù Related: – Gophers fall to USCLive game blogPre-game blogFrom USD to USC (preview) – Gophers battered, but looking to bury ugly loss and focus on USC