David Cleveland/Associated Press
USC effectively took the wind out in the Las Vegas Bowl, rolling off four unanswered touchdowns in the first half to build a 35-6 lead.
The Bulldogs cannot afford to fall behind big early, particularly with quarterback Derek Carr and two 1,000-yard receivers from last year's team gone to the NFL. What's more, they are introducing new elements to offensive coordinator Dave Schramm's spread scheme.
Digging a deep hole is an effective way to rattle a made-over offense, but the opposite side of that coin is that the designed quarterback runs being integrated into the system could keep USC on its toes.
Don't Get Beat by the Big Play
Few things are as demoralizing to a defense facing a no-huddle offense as surrendering a quick score. It plays directly into what the opponent wants to do with its heightened tempo and sends the offense back on the field after a short break with ground to make up.
USC's big, early lead in the Las Vegas was the result of several Trojans haymakers. USC had three touchdowns of plays of 24 yards or more, including on a pair of 40-yard Kessler touchdown passes.
Kessler punished Fresno State's defense for selling out on stopping the run a season ago, going to play action and exploiting one-on-one matchups. The result were career highs in passing yards with 345 and touchdowns with four.
Kessler is taking over a new offense Saturday, and as such, could face some growing pains, but it's up to the Bulldogs pass-rushing defense to make him feel those growing pains. Linebacker Ejiro Ederaine, Fresno State's leading sack-producer, must find ways to get to the quarterback.
However, part of that is contingent on the Bulldogs containing USC's potent run game.
Test a Young Offensive Line
As expected, USC's initial depth chart, released Sunday via USC Athletics' official Twitter account, features two true freshmen starting at guard: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn. The third member on the interior of the offensive line is veteran Max Tuerk, making the move from guard to center.
The collective inexperience could be a veteran Fresno State defense's ticket to containing a dynamic USC backfield. Fresno State must find ways to attack up front and limit the one-two rushing punch of running backs Javorius "Buck" Allen and Justin Davis.
That starts with winning the battle up front.