While the Trojan and Bulldog offenses will be trying to put up points for their respective teams, the defenses will be hard at work attempting to prevent that from happening.
USC has the advantage here, as it touts a defense with a particularly quick and aggressive pass rush. Fresno State hasn't faced a defensive line as good as USC's this season, and that could have an impact on how well Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr is able to get the passing game going.
For the Trojans, stopping Carr at the line of scrimmage will be critical, as he and his receivers will be a nightmare for USC's secondary otherwise. Unlike UCLA's Brett Hundley—the last quarterback that USC faced—Carr isn't particularly mobile outside the pocket, so containing him will be easier for USC's D-line.
In nearly every statistical category, USC's defense is superior to Fresno State's, which suggests that not only will the Trojans be able to move the Bulldogs off the field, but they will be able to find the end zone once the offense gets the ball back.
|USC vs. Fresno State Defensive Statistics|
|Opp. 3rd-Down Conversion Rate||34.04%||44.51%|
|Opp. 4th-Down Conversion Rate||36.84%||47.22%|
|Opp. Red Zone Conversion||63.41%||85.37%|
Fresno State's defense is a sieve, so guys like running back Buck Allen and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor should have big games. The fact that the Bulldogs give up nearly 150 rushing yards a game on the ground means they will have a tough time bringing down Allen, a big-bodied back that shakes defenders and breaks tackles with ease.
And as incapable as USC's secondary is at times, Fresno State's is worse: They're surrendering over 275 yards through the air on average, so even if Carr and his receivers strike USC quickly, the Trojans will be able to respond just as efficiently.
Despite how much more high-powered Fresno State's offense is, scoring at will without a running quarterback has been very difficult for teams that faced USC this season. The Trojans have excelled at preventing third down conversions and scoring in the red zone, and this game may not be all that different.
A determining factor in this game, however, will be the turnovers. Both the Bulldogs and the Trojans have forced 21 turnovers on the season, and Fresno State's defense has been able to find the end zone just a little more than USC's has. In the Las Vegas Bowl, the team that forces and capitalizes on the most turnovers will be the team that can turn this game in their favor.
Fresno State has the clear advantage on the offensive front, but the Trojan defense will come to play just as aggressively.
As has been the case all season, USC's defense will set the tone and the offense will follow. If it comes out strong, Cody Kessler and Co. can get things rolling on their end and can accomplish their goal of achieving a 10-win season.
If not, it's going to be a long afternoon in Las Vegas and could trigger another offseason of the doldrums in Troy.