Kif­fin: There are few bet­ter than Locker

Los Angeles Times - - College Football - Gary Klein gary.klein@latimes.com

Af­ter de­feat­ing four mostly face­less op­po­nents, USC will go up against a mar­quee player Satur­day when Washington quar­ter­back Jake Locker vis­its the Coli­seum.

USC Coach Lane Kif­fin said Sun­day night that Locker was the best player USC will have faced this sea­son and that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound se­nior was wor­thy of pro­jec­tions as the pos­si­ble No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Locker strug­gled might­ily in his last game, a 56-21-de­feat by Ne­braska on Sept. 18. He com­pleted four of 20 passes with a touch­down and two in­ter­cep­tions.

But Kif­fin was un­wa­ver­ing.

“One game is never go­ing to de­fine a player,” he said.

USC glimpsed Locker’s po­ten­tial last sea­son when he en­gi­neered a game-win­ning fourth-quar­ter drive in the Huskies’ 16-13 vic­tory over the Tro­jans at Seat­tle.

Locker pon­dered mak­ing him­self avail­able for the 2010 draft but re­turned for a fi­nal sea­son un­der Coach Steve

Sark­isian, who over­saw USC’s of­fense with Kif­fin in 2005-2006.

Kif­fin down­played the sig­nif­i­cance of coach­ing against Sark­isian.

“This game isn’t about my­self or him,” Kif­fin said.

It could be about Locker if he gets on track.

Locker has com­pleted 51% of his at­tempts and has passed for six touch­downs, with two passes in­ter­cepted. He also has rushed for 100 yards and two touch­downs for a team that sand­wiched a vic­tory over Syra­cuse be­tween losses to Brigham Young and Ne­braska.

On the line

USC could be hand­i­capped against the Huskies if de­fen­sive end Wes Hor­ton is un­able to play be­cause of an in­jury suf­fered Satur­day. Hor­ton, who had a sack and also blocked a punt, was ac­ci­den­tally kicked in the back by Tro­jans end Nick Perry.

Kif­fin de­clined to spec­ify Hor­ton’s in­jury.

Hor­ton’s ab­sence would fur­ther weaken a line that was with­out tackle Ar­mond Arm­stead against Washington State.

Arm­stead, held out be­cause of a shoul­der in­jury, is ex­pected to re­turn Satur­day, but Perry is not at full strength be­cause of lin­ger­ing sore­ness from an an­kle in­jury suf­fered dur­ing train­ing camp.

“I just want to get back at them so bad,” Hor­ton said Satur­day of Washington. “It was an em­bar­rass­ing loss last year — it was game that we should have won.”

Com­pet­i­tive league

The Pa­cific 10 Con­fer­ence is deeper than it was dur­ing his first stint at USC, Kif­fin said.

Kif­fin also made the lat­est in what has be­come a se­ries of veiled digs about the pre­vi­ous staff’s re­cruit­ing ef­forts.

“We don’t have as many star play­ers as we did be­fore and so they’re play­ing at those other places,” he said. “It’s evened out and it’s our goal to change it back to what it was be­fore.”

With­out prompt­ing, Kif­fin even com­pli­mented UCLA. “Who would have thought UCLA would be able to go into Texas and not just win, but it sounds like they phys­i­cally dom­i­nated them,” Kif­fin said.

Quick hits USC quar­ter­back Matt

Barkley has passed for 12 touch­downs, the most in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion, and is ranked 14th na­tion­ally in pass­ing ef­fi­ciency. . . . Kif­fin said se­nior cen­ter Kristofer O’Dowd and the of­fen­sive line played their best games of the sea­son against Washington State. The Tro­jans rushed for 285 yards and two touch­downs and Barkley was not sacked. . . . USC will re­sume prac­tice Tues­day.

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