USC Football: Players Who Must Step Up If Matt Barkley Misses Sun Bowl

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USC Football: Players Who Must Step Up If Matt Barkley Misses Sun Bowl
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

USC's upcoming Hyundai Sun Bowl clash with Georgia Tech has one enormous question hanging over it: Will Matt Barkley play?

Barkley is "highly questionable" for the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve, according to ESPN.com. With the senior signal-caller still recovering from a strained right shoulder suffered in a Nov. 17 loss to UCLA, there's a real possibility that the Trojans will have to play their bowl game without their star.

In the case that Barkley misses the Sun Bowl and freshman Max Wittek makes his second straight start, let's take a look at three players who must step up for the Trojans vs. Georgia Tech.

 

Silas Redd, RB

With Barkley watching from the sideline, the Trojans would no doubt have to lean on their running game to open things up for the passing game. 

The good news is that USC's ground attack hasn't been terrible in 2012, averaging 155 yards per game (68th in the country). The running game is led by junior Penn State transfer Silas Redd, who has rushed for 817 yards and nine touchdowns on 150 carries.

No one will be mistaking Redd and USC's rushing attack for Georgia Tech's renowned ground assault. But so long as Redd is picking up solid chunks of yardage and setting up manageable third downs, the Trojans will be just fine.

The Yellow Jackets rank 47th nationally defending the run, but have given up 27 touchdowns on the ground in 12 games. Clearly, Redd will have his opportunities to make an impact. 

 

Hayes Pullard, LB

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USC sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard will need to be at his absolute best against Georgia Tech on New Year's Eve, as the Yellow Jackets boast the fourth-best rushing attack in college football.

Pullard is USC's second-leading tackler with 91, including 6.5 for a loss.

The Inglewood, Calif., native will have trouble stopping Georgia Tech's runners for a loss in the Sun Bowl. But if he and his teammates can keep the damage to a minimum and wrap up effectively, the Trojans defense should be able to get off the field quickly and force the Yellow Jackets to pass more than they like.

Obviously the Trojans will need a solid all-around performance from their defense, but it starts with Pullard. If he plays an inspired game, it's sure to rub off on the rest of USC's defenders.

 

Robert Woods, WR

With Marqise Lee dominating on the outside for USC, fellow Trojans wideout Robert Woods has flown under the radar for much of his junior season. Woods has caught 11 touchdowns in 12 games, but he is only averaging 68 receiving yards per game and just 11 yards per reception.

But the speedster from Carson, Calif., is certainly capable of stepping up his game this winter, and he'll need to in order to make life easier for Wittek.

Woods caught seven balls for 92 yards and a touchdown in Wittek's first college start last month against No. 1-ranked Notre Dame. So, clearly, the two players have built a decent connection in Barkley's absence.

With Lee sure to get plenty of attention from Georgia Tech's secondary, expect Woods to be the difference for USC offensively. The Yellow Jackets rank just 69th against the pass.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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