USC Football: USC vs. Hawaii Game Preview
USC kicks off its Unfinished Business season on Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Matt Barkley, TJ McDonald, Robert Woods, Curtis McNeal and the rest of the Trojan team will take the field knowing they can play for it all this year after two years of postseason ineligibility stemming from the NCAA sanctions. (I am really tired of talking about those, for the record.)
Win out, and the Trojans could and should be Miami bound in January to play for the BCS Title.
It’s exciting to ponder and yet it is exactly where the Trojan faithful expect this team to be. Personally, I’m like a little kid on Christmas Eve, I can hardly sleep this week knowing USC football is just a couple of days away.
Hawaii shouldn’t prove to be much of a match for this loaded team from Troy, but let’s take a look at the particulars and some interesting story lines going into this eighth matchup between the USC Trojans and Hawaii Warriors.
This will be the Trojans' first game against Hawaii since a 49-36 win in 2010. The prior meeting was a 63-17 win in 2005. USC is 7-0 all time against the Warriors, and has scored at least 49 points in each of the last five meetings and over 60 in four of them.
I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the over 49 and win streaks continue on Saturday.
USC Offense vs. Hawaii Defense
USC’s game plan is not exactly a state secret. Take one Heisman Trophy front-runner, Matt Barkley, and add two world-class receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee and you’ve got a recipe for a pass-happy initial offensive strike.
I’m reminded of the 53-yard Leinart to Bush pass in the 2004 season opener vs. Virginia Tech, specifically. We should expect to see some fireworks through the air.
Hawaii’s defense doesn’t really have an answer for the dual threat that Woods and Lee are. None of the Warrior defenders are up to covering the tandem one on one.
So let’s say Norm Chow (right?! He’s baaaaack!) decides to put more D-backs into his secondary to assist with the Woods/Lee problem. Look for Barkley to throw the ball early and often to both receivers.
Not an issue for this Trojan offense, as they can just slice and dice the Hawaii D up the middle with tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd.
Quite frankly, the Hawaii defense is the biggest rebuilding project first-year head coach Norm Chow has with this program. The Warriors are not up to the task of taking on this explosive USC offense.
The only hope they have is to get in there and play tough in the trenches and force the Trojans to beat themselves through penalties. (And every Trojan fan knows stupid penalties are an unfortunate early-season USC problem.)
As for speed, the Warriors can’t keep up with the speed USC has on offense, and only getting into the backfield early can slow down the Trojan receivers and running backs.
Hawaii Offense vs. USC Defense
The strength of USC’s defense is in its back seven—meaning, the Trojans are well equipped to keep Hawaii’s passing attack under control. That’s bad news for the Warriors, as their only hope is to keep the game close and hope for those USC mistakes to surface.
Hawaii’s QB Sean Schroeder (Duke transfer) should have the smarts to run Norm Chow’s offense. Interestingly, while Norm Chow was given credit for the offenses of USC’s National Championship teams under Pete Carroll, his offenses at each stop since (Tennessee Titans, UCLA, Utah) have grown progressively more impotent.
Schroeder’s go-to receivers are Billy Ray Stuzmann and Jeremiah Ostrowski, and while serviceable, the speed of USC’s defense will be an overpowering factor in the Hawaii offensive strike, or attempted strike.
The Trojans defensive line is fairly inexperienced. The four starters—Wes Horton, J.R. Tavai, Antwaun Woods and George Uko—have had seven starts between the whole group in 2011 and all of those starts were Horton’s.
There are questions to be answered on the Trojan D-Line. Will they bring pressure on Schroeder? Will they be able to get up the field and make critical plays? USC’s offense is potent, but this team will not go 12-0 without a defense that can hold opponents down.
If Chow is smart, he will test USC’s less experienced front four with a run game. He does have a history of coming up with sneaky, innovative game plans when least expected.
Of course, Kiffin and Orgeron have coached under and with Chow and should be well prepared for anything he might dole out. The key will be to keep the ball out of USC’s hands for as long as possible. When USC has the ball, they tend to score at will.
Players and Situations to Watch
It will be interesting to see how Lane Kiffin doles out the carries for McNeal and former Penn State RB Silas Redd. They are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, and USC has a long history of using a dual-tailback threat in their offense.
Also interesting will be the balance between the air and ground attacks. After all, USC’s offense has a pair of each that are amongst the best, if not the best in the country.
Sophomore Aundrey Walker takes over Matt Barkley’s blindside protection from Matt Kalil’s capable hands. Note how comfortable Barkley appears as it will be a key to knowing whether he feels protected in his blind spot or if he’s wishing Kalil had stayed for his senior year.
Linebacker Lamar Dawson proclaimed that he’d be playing in USC’s season opener. Fine, but let’s not forget that he missed a lot of fall camp with a torn calf muscle and if that has not fully healed, he will not be ready to play or the player the USC D needs him to be.
The Trojan defense has always been built on crazy speed. To be effective, Dawson needs to have the mobility to play sideline to sideline and get down the field for pass drops.
Dawson also wears USC’s No. 55, which brings us to…
Junior Seau and Club 55
Trojan legend Junior Seau tragically passed away on May 2, 2012. Look for an emotional tribute during the game to this beloved member of the Trojan family and one of the best to ever wear USC’s No. 55. In his 1989 season, Seau turned the No. 55 into a legend when he racked up 19 sacks, 27 tackles for a loss and was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
Wearing No. 55 is a very big deal at USC and the venerable number has been worn by the likes of Seau, Willie McGinest, Keith Rivers and Chris Claiborne.
After Seau’s death, some factions of the Trojan family have called for the retiring of No. 55. However, I don’t think Junior would have wanted that. “Club 55” is a Trojan tradition and being a Trojan is all about tradition. No. 55 should continue to be worn to honor not just Seau, but all the men who’ve worn the Trojan No. 55.
Oh Lane. Last year, he made the Trojan faithful a bit crazy with his insistence at going for two after every touchdown. This year, he’s talking Pat Riley Lakers era Showtime style points.
Don’t get me wrong, I would love that—as would just about every Trojan I know. After all, we’re fairly well known for and proud of our arrogance. Oh how we’d love more 50-0 beat downs! But, more importantly, we want to win and not take too many crazy chances—chances where mistakes could change the outcome of the game—along the way.
As I mentioned earlier, Norm Chow was the offensive mastermind behind those amazing 2003, 2004 and 2005 USC teams and is largely considered to be one of Lane Kiffin’s mentors.
After USC, Chow left to become the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans—a team led by USC alumnus Jeff Fisher. After two years with the Titans, Chow left to become UCLA’s offensive coordinator. Quelle horreur!
Kiffin even tried to hire Norm away from the Bruins when he became USC’s coach but Chow said no, electing to stay in Westwood and install the pistol offense. We all know how well that turned out (15-22 record over three seasons, UCLA 116th out of 120 nationally in passing yardage and 118 in passing efficiency).
In 2011, Chow became the offensive coordinator for Utah as the Utes were joining the Pac-12.
Now, Chow enters very familiar territory—the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum—in his first game as head coach.
Chow and Kiffin have faced off against each other before. When Kiffin coached the Raiders and Chow was at the Titans, Kiffin for USC and Chow for UCLA and Kiffin for USC and Chow for Utah.
Advantage: Kiffin. The mentee becomes the mentor.
Depth Chart Update
Just a couple of quick notes:
Max Wittek was officially named Matt Barkley’s backup QB for the game versus Hawaii.
LB Simione Vehikite has been reinstated after serving jail time following a 2011 car accident where he left the scene of the accident and was driving drunk. Vehikite’s reinstatement is a surprise, that’s for sure.
It brings up an interesting situation since Will Andrew is still without scholarship and the team is still waiting for word on the eligibility of WR Darreus Rogers. Kiffin said Vehikite’s scholarship is still in place which puts the Trojans at their 75 scholarship limit without Rogers. (Or Will Andrew for that matter.)
What this open armed welcome of Vehikite means is open for debate. One could draw a simple conclusion that USC’s depth issues at linebacker are worse than previously thought.
Drink of the Game
Well personally, for me, diet coke, since I am running the Disneyland half marathon the next day.
But in general, I’m going to have to go with a 7&7 for Barkley and McDonald.
USC is favored by more than 40 and the over/under sits around 65.
USC by at least 20.