USC Trojans Football: 7 Keys to Winning the Hawaii Game
Here we go.
The 2012 college football season opens with a bang when the much-ballyhooed USC Trojans welcome former offensive coordinator Norm Chow and his Hawaii Warriors to the coliseum this Saturday.
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the recently released AP Preseason Poll, will be attempting to get off to a good start in what promises to be a memorable season for the Cardinal and Gold.
Led by prohibitive Heisman favorite, quarterback Matt Barkley, and a bevy of quality skill players, USC will face a Hawaii team that is in rebuild mode after losing record-setting quarterback Bryant Moniz and is undergoing a major face lift with a new coaching staff.
In a season where USC will not just have to win, but do it impressively, Hawaii represents an opportunity for head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff to fine tune the roster before the Trojans enter the meat of their schedule.
Realistically, can Hawaii pull of the stunner against the vaunted Trojans?
No, but it will be an important game to set a precedent for the upcoming season, and to that end, here are seven keys to make sure the men of Troy get off on the right foot.
No. 7: Feed off of the Sellout Crowd
In what is expected to be a banner season for the 2012 USC Trojans, the excitement of their fanbase can be found in its sellout of the very first game of the year.
With that sellout, the Trojans should be able to feed off of the energy that such a large crowd will inevitably contribute to the start of a season where so much is expected from their highly ranked team.
This does not portend well for an over-matched Hawaii team and will propel the men of Troy to what should be an early start to what most expect to be a blowout.
No. 6: Get Reserves Plenty of Playing Time
OK, so this slide is more about a "by product" of winning this game rather than a "key" on how to do it.
Nonetheless, getting playing time for the two and three deeps will be the residue of the slides to follow, and with a team that has depth issues like the Trojans, how they perform when called upon is crucial not only to this game but all to follow.
The reserves will be counted on to at least hold the Warriors even and perhaps increase the lead handed to them by the starters.
Of course, in order to this, the starters must thrive, and for this reason, the following slide becomes paramount...
No. 5: Strike Early
So, let me state the bloody obvious in connecting this slide with getting the reserves playing time.
You must put the game away early.
But this is not only important in terms of getting valuable playing time for the backups, but also for shaking the fragile sensibilities of a Hawaii team that is trying to find its way under new head coach Norm Chow.
Chow, the former Trojan offensive coordinator, picked a bad team to open his first head coaching job with. As they try to feel their way from a run-and-shoot offense to a pro-style on offense and do their best on defense to contain Matt Barkley and crew, USC's superior athleticism should allow for a quick (and large) early lead.
Welcome back, Norm.
No. 4: The Trojans Must Be Effective Against the Run
With the Warriors breaking in a new quarterback while learning a new offensive system, it is likely that coach Chow will attempt to establish the run game to help ease the implementation of the pass.
There is an even better reason for this too, as Chow's most reliable player on that side of the ball happens to be running back Joey Iosefa, who averaged over five yards a carry.
But perhaps the best reason for the Trojans to focus on the run has little to do with their opponent.
Instead, as the college football pundits will tell you, a perceived weakness for USC is its defensive line, which is undergoing an almost complete makeover.
If that d-line can control the line of scrimmage and force Hawaii to pass, it will go a long way not only toward winning this game, but setting the tone for the rest of the season.
No. 3: After USC Stops the Run They Must Contain the Passing Game
While this year's topic of discussion regarding USC's weakness centers on the defensive line, what must not be forgotten is that last year, the Trojans pass defense was abysmal.
After ranking 102nd in 2011 in that category, USC will have to significantly improve in 2012 if it is to entertain those high hopes placed on it.
Fortunately for the men of Troy, the second part of 2011 featured improved play from a defensive secondary that appeared to finally figure out Monte Kiffin's schemes.
With six of those back seven being returning starters, big things are expected—and needed—from this group, especially early while the defensive line is still finding its mojo.
Against Hawaii, if the Warriors are turned into a one-dimensional passing team, USC should thrive, and the d-line can get some much-needed confidence in the form of a bevy of sacks.
No. 2: Offensively, the Trojans Must Establish the Run
Although the Trojans passing game will be one of the most feared in college football, if USC hopes to be the dominating offense it envisions, it must be able to run the ball.
With four returning offensive linemen opening holes for the two-headed running back monster known as Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd, this should not be too much of a problem against Hawaii's 53rd-rated rushing defense.
This is not to say that the Warriors defensive line doesn't have quality because they do have talent (especially on the edges), and they are experienced.
Still, with most defenses naturally inclined to be back on their heels out of respect for Matt Barkley and his pass-catching bevy of stars, USC must take advantage on the ground.
It will, and in 2012, it starts against Hawaii.
No. 1: Exploit the Passing Game with Barkley and Crew
OK, so combine the video game-like passing offense of USC with a Hawaii pass defense that ranked 85th in 2011, and what do you have?
Big trouble for USC's old buddy, Norm Chow.
Conventional wisdom says the run opens up the passing game, but for USC, this may not be the case.
And you know what? It doesn't really matter.
Regardless of which component of the offense sets up the other, the Trojans are likely to field the most talent across the board in college football.
Having said that, Barkley didn't come back for his senior year to hand the ball off all game long.
Which means fans of the program should get ready for lots of Matt Barkley to (fill in the receiver's name) calls all game long.
It will be interesting to see how Lane Kiffin manages this game against his old "buddy" and offensive mentor, Norm Chow.
Kiffin, who succeeded Chow as offensive coordinator for Pete Carroll's Trojans, and Chow have long been rumored to harbor animosity for the way Norm left USC.
While both men deny there were any issues, rumor has it that they didn't speak to each other during the last two years of Chow's tenure with the Trojans.
Whatever the case, the Trojan fanbase still has a soft spot for "Uncle Norm."
But if Kiffin doesn't share that sentiment, it could get ugly real quick for the Warriors.