USC Football: Is No-Tackle spring game an ominous sign?


Oct. 22, 2011; South Bend, IN, USA; USC Trojans cornerback Nickell Robey (21) breaks up a pass intended for Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd (3) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Over 15,000 fans went to the Coliseum on Saturday for USC’s spring game. They got to see Matt Barkley sling the rock again to some of his favorite targets. They got to see a bunch of new faces (WR De’Von Flournoy and LT Aundrey Walker to name a couple) make a case for themselves at their respective positions. They got to see USC’s secondary, arguably one of the strongest in the conference, display its continued growth.

You know what they didn’t get to see? Any tackling. But so what? It’s early, it’s not even a thing to consider, right?

WRONG. If you were around for the 2010 season, you already know why.

In Coach Kiffin’s first season at ‘SC, he implemented a no-tackle policy during practices, which at the outset didn’t seem like a terrible idea: USC had a lot of depth issues coming off of a season where seven guys departed for the draft and a few more left as a result of the notorious sanctions. As the season went on, however, the consequence of a lack of tackling in practice reared its ugly, dreadful head. Repeated defensive breakdowns (Washington and Stanford, anyone?) and an 8-5 season later, the Trojans’ inability to tackle was to blame.

Last season, USC could credit a lot of it’s 10-2 season to the fact that the players better understood Monte Kiffin’s defensive scheme and that they started tackling for real again. Gone were the days of lazy, one-armed tackles (and good riddance!); instead we started seeing the players wrap up opponents and make fundamentally sound tackles again.

And going into this spring, all was fine and dandy in Trojan land.

But USC finds itself in a similar situation to the 2010 season, with injuries keeping many players out of spring ball. Standout wide receiver Robert Woods didn’t participate at all, and both of USC’s starting tight ends, Randall Telfer and Xaver Grimble were sidelined off and on for minor injuries as well, for example. USC thought it had caught a stroke of luck when the coaches moved Tre Madden from linebacker to running back, but then he tore a ligament in his knee, ending his season.

Queue dramatic rolling in of grey, ominous clouds, and place it right over USC.

In fairness, this all could be a precautionary measure by Lane Kiffin to allow his players to get healthy in time for the fall. But, in post-game interviews with Lisa Horne of Fox Sports, Kiffin did admit that this might not just be a temporary thing.

"“We’ll do some tackling drills [regarding fall camp] but if it’s leaning toward that, it’s [only] one or two scrimmages. We’re making sure of keeping our guys healthy.”"

If USC wants to have any kind of hope of making it all the way, practicing good tackling will be essential, critical to the team’s success. Alas, we do still have a few months to see how players progress in terms of healing those nagging injuries, and there will—in theory—be plenty of opportunities come fall camp for the Trojans to make up for lost time.

In the mean time though, it wouldn’t hurt if Trojan fans started praying to the football gods to let their team catch a break, just this once.