Escape Act Leaves Many Questions

Escape Act Leaves Many Questions

From Dillon Baxter's disappearance to surprise acts from Torin Harris, USC's game against Minnesota was more an escape win from the hands of magician Lane Kiffin than a confident performance by the Trojans.

A proper parallel to USC's perplexing win over Minnesota Saturday might be a mediocre magic show as there were as many incredible tricks as there were disappearance acts.

The opening number began with Matt Barkley's Heisman-like day, throwing for 304 yards and no sacks or interceptions. Act two started (and ended) with Robert Woods' touchdown clinic.

Kiffin closed the red curtain for intermission with the running game, which moved the ball well but the offense didn't do enough right on third and fourth downs to put more points on the board.

And then came a couple surprise visitors in the finale. The Harris boys—Da'John and Torin—both made incredible plays to seal the Trojans' 19-17 victory. Da'John had two important sacks and was disruptive the entire game. If the senior hadn't come out of his shell before, he has now. And after giving up a touchdown earlier in the game, Torin's interception allowed USC to avoid the "poor two-minute defense" label for one week.

But during the intermission, fans began to wonder: where were the freshmen? Where was Dillon Baxter? What happened to Mr. No. 55 who came in to Saturday's game with more hype than a Justin Bieber single.

Only three freshmen played in Marqise Lee, Andre Heidari and Tre Madden. About five more than that trio were expected to see the field, considering Kiffin's public speech about using the Minnesota game to give players repetitions.

"Yeah I have no idea how everything went. I guess when game comes there's different situations, I guess it doesn't go like practice and I guess they didn't need [me], or I didn't really come up today at all," Baxter said.

Dillon Baxter might have been the most puzzling disappearance act of all. The sophomore only made a brief stint on stage, catching one screen pass almost four minutes into the fourth quarter. And then poof, the fog blower turned up and the elusive back had vanished.

"Coach Kiffin was talking about how I changed and everything and you know, I thought I've being doing the right things. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. Hopefully there will be a change," he said.

Other no-shows included middle linebacker Dawson and tailback Amir Carlisle. While Carlisle is suffering an ankle injury, Dawson was expected to get a majority of repetitions. Instead, Chris Galippo outperformed general expectations by illustrating speed and skilled tackling Saturday.

That offensive line turned into a rabbit before the Coliseum's eyes, struggling even under a gameplan noticeably adjusted to the line's weakness. Even veterans Matt Kalil and Khaled Holmes weren't in tune for four quarters. Kalil earned himself a false start penalty and Holmes overthrew a snap that led to a fumble recovered by Minnesota.

"[We had] a couple stupid penalties the second half," Kalil said. "I think we're going to take a little longer to mesh. It's a little tougher on offense, you got to be on the same page. If one guy makes a mistake, it blows the whole play."

While Kiffin may come off as more escape artist than magician after sending Minnesota home with the loss, he can still wave his wand boasting a winning record this season.

Utah will be a tough foe next week, especially with the help of offensive coordinator Norm Chow who has figured out a few of Kiffin's secrets in their years working together. Until then, fans can only wonder what will happen next.

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