Energy level must stay elevated in Minnesota


first_imgSometimes, fans assume that sports are like algebra.If Team A beats Team B by 21, and if Team B beats Team C by 14, then it follows that Team A should beat Team C by 35.Right?No — at least, not according to Lane Kiffin and the Trojans.Kiffin dismissed any thought of that this week, when reporters brought up the fact that Minnesota — the Trojans’ opponent Saturday — just lost to South Dakota, 41-38.Yes, that South Dakota, a Football Championship Subdivision team that, on its official site, features a poll that about 90 percent of voters have said yes to: “Was USD football’s 41-38 win over Minnesota the biggest win in program history?”On that note, it’s safe to say that Minnesota has had a bad week.But that doesn’t mean that the Trojans can overlook the Golden Gophers, because, well, you saw what happened when they played a lesser-hyped team in Virginia.Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, one of five captains on the 2010 squad and maybe the most outspoken player on the team, agrees with that sentiment.“You can’t really approach games differently, I don’t think,” Barkley said this week. “Or grade them based on who you’re playing, because anything can happen. So we’re approaching it just like any other week with our same preparation. We’re not thinking this is gonna be a cakewalk, but going at it full and trying to do our best – like we always do.”The word “cakewalk” is particularly interesting. In most situations, games such as the USC-Minnesota game and the USC-Virginia game and the USC-Hawai’i game are expected to be just that — cakewalks.Except the first two weren’t, for a variety of reasons. And now the Trojans are trying to combat those same reasons that prevented them from strutting their stuff against the Warriors and Cavaliers.Judging from this week of practice, that seemed like a very viable possibility, with the team looking supremely sharp and focused and on a mission.And then Thursday’s practice happened.Three interceptions happened. A focus- and intensity-free two hours happened.And now we’re back to last week again, aren’t we?“I thought it started really well,” Kiffin said of the Trojans’ game-week preparation for Minnesota following a 17-14 win over Virginia, which he called the most disappointing victory of his coaching career. “Tuesday and Wednesday were very good for the most part. [Thursday] was just OK. We’ve got a long ways to go. They need to understand that this is a very serious game and not take this opponent lightly just because of what happened last week, which doesn’t mean anything [next Saturday].”He has a point. There are many instances of teams playing significantly worse against teams that are worse than them, and significantly better against teams that are better than them — in other words, taking them lightly.Coaches will tell you that it’s because of a bad matchup, an injury to a specific player or guys not executing.In reality, however, it’s just the players being humans and not getting as amped up for a lesser opponent as they would for a big-time opponent.It only makes sense, right?How else do you explain the Los Angeles Lakers splitting two games and being outscored by 13 points in the season series with the Charlotte Bobcats last season, then going on to win the league title for the second-straight year?How else do you explain USC losing to lowly Stanford at the Coliseum on that fateful day in October 2007 when the Trojans hadn’t lost at home in 35 games?The only connecting factor between those games is an obvious amount of decreased intensity from the players on the losing team.I imagine we’ll know fairly soon on Saturday afternoon whether the Trojans have found that lost intensity, located that displaced focus and prepared properly to face the Gophers in a nationally televised game that will determine a lot of what people will say about USC football over the next several weeks.But we don’t know yet. In Kiffin’s words, they still have ”a long ways to go.”Maybe that involves figuring out their math, after all.“Looking Past the X’s and O’s” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit or e-mail Pedro at [email protected]last_img

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