Sun Bowl 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know for USC vs. Georgia Tech
Though this is not the bowl game either USC or Georgia Tech envisioned playing in when this season started, nonetheless, this is where both teams find themselves on the cusp of 2013.
Disappointment aside, given the momentum for next season that a victory would provide, each team would love nothing more than to come away from this game with a win since—what the hell—they are in El Paso anyway.
This slideshow will look at 10 things you need to know about this contest and how they will affect the outcome of the game.
So, in no apparent order of importance, here are some interesting tidbits for the 2012 Sun Bowl...
USC's Rush Defense Will Have Its Hands Full
Beyond the fact that the triple option is a very difficult offense to game plan against, Georgia Tech simply implements it very well.
Averaging over 312 yards a game on the ground, the Yellow Jackets are the fourth best rushing team in the nation.
For the Trojans part, they are ranked 58th in college football when it comes to rush defense, but again, when it comes to defending the triple option, you can throw those stats out of the window.
USC must stay disciplined, and each player will be responsible for an opposing Yellow Jacket. How dutifully they perform those tasks will go a long way toward determining the outcome of this game.
Look for Georgia Tech to Pass Early
Despite the fact that the Yellow Jackets are primarily a run-first offense, that doesn't mean they can't throw the rock.
Though only ranked the 115th best aerial offense in the nation, Georgia Tech knows that the Trojans will be stacking their defense to stop its potent running game.
Because of this, look for the Yellow Jackets to explore passing opportunities early in the game to keep Monte Kiffin's defense honest.
If successful, this will give the Trojans something to think about as they try to establish a tone to stop what the Yellow Jackets do best.
And everyone knows that a defense that is thinking instead of reacting is in deep trouble, especially against an offense that relies on so many options.
USC's Defense Will Try to Send Monte Kiffin out in Style
Look, if his players' affection for him was the single barometer for the retention of his job, Monte Kiffin wouldn't be leaving the Trojans after this game.
That's because the venerable elder Kiffin is widely loved by his players, and they will do their best to make his last game on the staff a memorable one.
With effort from his defense not a problem, it will now come down to execution, and unfortunately for the Trojans, they picked an opponent whose unconventional style of play renders their year-long typical defense moot.
Still, if motivation is a key factor for results, look for the Trojans defense to send Lane's dad out with a smile on his face.
Expect USC's Seniors to Have Big Games as They Prepare to Say Goodbye
One of life's cruel twists in the college football game—at least for the Trojans—is that quarterback Matt Barkley will not be participating in his final game at USC.
Still nursing his injured shoulder, Barkley will be forced to watch from the sideline as backup Max Wittek ushers in a new era of football for the cardinal and gold.
But while Barkley—one of the most admired Trojans ever—is forced to be a spectator, other Trojan seniors will be counted on to continue the excellence they exhibited over their careers in this, their last game for the men of Troy.
Among others, safety T.J. McDonald, center Khaled Holmes, running back Curtis McNeal and offensive lineman Abe Markowitz will all be counted on to make an impact for USC in this game.
And if history is any measure, that is exactly what they will do.
USC Can't Afford to Continue Season-Long Habit of Committing Turnovers
Now that Christmas is over, the Trojans need to make sure they are not in a gift-giving mood for this game.
With 31 turnovers given up by the Trojans already, USC simply can't afford to add to this woeful statistic in this game.
Ball security will be paramount if USC hopes to win this game, and there is some precedent by which the Trojans can pin their hopes on improving.
Earlier this year, penalties were an ongoing problem for the Trojans, but lately they have reduced their transgressions in this department, a trend that needs to continue in the Sun Bowl.
Perhaps that will also apply to USC's penchant for giving the ball away.
For the Trojans' sake, they better hope so.
The Trojans Need to Keep the Yellow Jackets out of Third and Short
With Georgia Tech averaging 5.5 yards per rush attempt, it is crucial that USC shuts down the Yellow Jackets on first and second down.
This becomes all the more critical as Georgia Tech welcomes back running back Orwin Smith who averages almost 10 yards a carry by himself.
Of course, limiting a rush-happy team like the Yellow Jackets is easier said than done, but if USC wants to be successful in this game, it needs to keep its opponent in long third downs.
USC Needs to Establish a Strong Running Game
One way to limit the Yellow Jackets offensively is for the Trojans to maintain control of the ball on offense, and in order to do that, they must establish the run.
This means that Trojan running backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal need to have big games, and that could be a concern in the case of McNeal, who hasn't practiced much due to injury.
If McNeal is limited, look for D.J. Morgan to take on a larger role, especially as he is the one Trojan who has the speed to break a long one.
Regardless of who is available, USC must extend plays and keep the ball as long as possible to take pressure off of the defense.
Now Is the Time to Finally Unleash the Tight Ends
Trojan fans have been confounded all season long as to why USC refuses to utilize its extremely talented pair of tight ends.
Both Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer are NFL-caliber players, yet neither has figured prominently in the Trojan passing game.
So far in 2012, the pair have combined for 39 receptions, with Grimble snagging 27 of those passes.
This is simply not acceptable with the talent of this duo.
Look for USC to finally feature the tight ends, which will open things up on the outside for wide receiver Marqise Lee and flanker Robert Woods.
The Trojans Will Make Their Hay Through the Air
While the Trojans are maintaining ball control on the ground, where they will exploit the Yellow Jackets defense is through the air.
Ranked 67th in the nation in that department, Georgia Tech is particularly vulnerable against good passing teams and hasn't seen anything like Trojan receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
Of course, USC is not the passing offense it was in the beginning of the season when Matt Barkley was leading the aerial attack, but the Trojans still possess plenty of fire power in the passing game.
Whether USC can be effective will depend on how new quarterback Max Wittek performs, which brings us to the next slide...
The Sun Bowl Is Where Max Wittek Will Begin to Build His Own Legacy
Think about the road ahead for young quarterback Max Wittek.
Not only will Wittek be starting only his second game in the first bowl appearance by USC in three years, but he will have to do it by replacing a Trojan legend in Matt Barkley.
Barkley will be held in high esteem in the pantheon of great Trojans not only because he was a fantastic leader but also because he stuck with USC through some of the darkest days ever for the program.
To be sure, Wittek will take over for Barkley, but he can never replace him in the hearts of those who follow the men of Troy.
Having said that, young Max is as prepared as anyone can be given the circumstances.
With two years in the system and all of the attributes a prototypical quarterback must have, Wittek is poised to create his own legend against the Yellow Jackets.
And having gotten "first-game jitters" out of the way against No. 1 Notre Dame, he is ready to be featured in Kiffin's offensive game plan.
Time to let the young pony loose, Lane.