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USC Needs Better Defensive Performance In Home Opener Against Virginia

GAME NOTES: The Virginia Cavaliers will play their first-ever game in the state of California on Saturday night, as they take on the 16th-ranked USC Trojans in a non-conference affair.

Last weekend's opener against Richmond was a big deal for Virginia head coach Mike London. Not only was he leading the Cavaliers into battle for the first time, he was playing against the same school that he left to accept the Cavs coaching vacancy. Virginia beat up on the Spiders by a 34-13 final.

"I graduated from there," said London after the game. "I spent a lot of years there as a coach and as a player but we're playing for (UVa) President Sullivan and the Charlottesville community now and that's what is most important."

The Cavaliers struggled throughout the 2009 season, finishing the year at just 3-9, including 2-6 in the ACC. However, the coaching change has fans of the program feeling cautiously optimistic.

USC has been in the news quite a bit in recent months, but not for the reasons that fans would like. Pete Carroll, who restored the program to dominance, left for the NFL, and many believe that a major factor in his departure was the looming possibility of NCAA sanctions. Lane Kiffin, a polarizing figure, took over as the new head coach, and the Trojans were indeed hit with penalties, ensuring that scholarships would be lost and the postseason wouldn't be in the teams immediate future.

With all of the controversy swirling as USC entered its opener against Hawaii last week, the team was able to earn a 49-36 victory.

"We did end up winning the game, which is good, but obviously as you can see, we've got some depth concerns and issues," said Kiffin. "We've got a lot of work to do."

USC crushed Virginia by a 52-7 final during the 2008 campaign in the only previous meeting between the two programs.

Virginia established outstanding offensive balance in the opener against Richmond, posting over 200 yards on the ground and through the air en route to 488 total yards. Keith Payne was the most impressive performer for the Cavaliers, as the bruising tailback posted 114 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries.

As for the passing attack, quarterback Marc Verica was impressive as well, connecting on 24-of-35 passes for 283 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

"He didn't try to win the game by doing something heroic," said London of Verica. "He stayed within himself and threw high percentage completions and moved the chains. If he continues to do that, he'll continue to help us."

Kris Burd was tops among the receivers with 122 yards and a score on seven catches, while Dontrelle Inman made seven grabs as well.

Richmond was able to rip off a 70-yard touchdown run against Virginia in the first quarter of the opener, but the defense settled down after that big play. The Cavs did not allow another touchdown and surrendered just two field goals the rest of the way. In all, Virginia permitted 333 yards and 13 first downs to the Spiders.

LaRoy Reynolds paced Virginia with eight total tackles, including three TFLs. Chase Minnifield, who recorded seven stops, posted the lone interception for the Cavs.

USC rolled up 524 total yards against Hawaii and was able establish tremendous balance. The Trojans were 9-of-12 on third-down conversion attempts and suffered just one turnover in the tilt. Matt Barkley was outstanding under center, completing 18-of-23 passes for 257 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His top target, Ronald Johnson, recorded seven catches for 59 yards and three scores.

As for the ground attack, Marc Tyler put up big numbers, gaining 154 yards and a score on 17 carries. USC posted 246 rushing yards in the game at a clip of seven yards per attempt.

"Defensively we didn't play very well today, obviously," said Kiffin, clearly disappointed in the overall poor play and lack of discipline exhibited by his defenders.

USC permitted 31 first downs and 588 total yards to Hawaii, which was 8-of-15 on third-down conversion attempts. The Warriors had possession of the ball for over 32 minutes and did most of their damage through the air, completing 27- of-49 passes for 459 yards with no interceptions.

Both Wes Horton and Jurrell Casey had a pair of TFLs in the game, including a sack apiece. In all, the Trojans tallied three sacks.

London seems like an outstanding candidate to turn things around in Charlottesville, but a win over USC in Los Angeles seems unlikely. Expect the Trojans to lead this one from start to finish.