What the USC Trojans Must Accomplish In the San Jose State Game

Rick McMahan@@RickMcMahanSenior Writer IAugust 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Rey Maualuga #58 and Kaluka Maiava #43 of the USC Trojans talk on the field while taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes during the college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 13, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

USC opens their 2009 season hosting San Jose State on Sept. 5 at the Coliseum.

Following this game is the seasons first "mega match-up" when the Trojans travel to Columbus to play the Buckeyes before a national audience.

But first things first.

Heaven knows that the Trojans can't afford to take anyone lightly given their nasty habit of tossing in an ugly annual season loss that usually costs them an opportunity to play for the national championship.

So, despite the Spartans' No. 83 ranking for the 2009 season by College Football News, USC can't afford to let their guard down against Dick Tomey's slowly improving program from Northern California.

This is an important game for a number of reasons beyond the "won-loss" component.

A variety of crucial questions need clarification before the Trojans venture into the Horseshoe to take on the mighty Buckeyes.

Here then, are the various areas of interest that the Trojans will address in this "tune up" against the Spartans.

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Offense:

Of course, the quarterback position will be a focus for the Trojans against San Jose State.

Whether it is Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley, or even Mitch Mustain, the Trojan field general will be a veritable neophyte.

For this reason, many expect USC to groom and nurture their running game behind one of the nation's finest offensive lines in this game.

Not me, however.

While there will be a large focus on the running game against the Spartans, I expect Pete Carroll and company to throw extensively, regardless of inexperience at the quarterback position.

There are two reasons for this.

One, the Trojan quarterback, whoever he is, will need game experience entering the Sept. 12 game against the Buckeyes.

The other is that Pete Carroll will want to give Jim Tressel something to think about as he prepares for the Trojans.

A conservative offensive game plan that focuses solely on the running game, while safe, offers too much opportunity to Tressel to stack against the run.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the Trojans are going to get pass-happy against Ohio State.

What it does mean, is that Coach Tressel will have to at least plan and practice for the possibility of a significant Trojan passing game regardless of whether it manifests itself or not.

Defense:

This is the area that those not familiar with the Trojan program will tell you is the greatest question mark for USC.

To some extent, they are right but not to the degree they think they are.

Particularly at the linebacker positions, the Trojans are light on experience.

However, the linebacking trio of Chris Galippo, Michael Morgan and Malcolm Smith will have had two camps of practice experience behind them and will enter the game as a young but disciplined group.

There are a couple of things that the Trojans will hope to accomplish against the Spartans on Sept. 5.

One is getting the less experienced defensive players some real game time going into the game against Ohio State.

Another is to throw some wrinkles into the defensive game plan to once again give Jim Tressel and his coaching staff something to think about.

While I expect the Trojans to be in their base 4-3 alignment for much of the San Jose State game, I would not be the least bit surprised if USC showed a 3-4 and even their hybrid "elephant" formation upon occasion.

Containing Terrelle Pryor on Sept. 12 will be huge, and the more Pryor has to think about, the more effective the Trojan defense will be.

Special Teams

For me, this may be the area of greatest concern for the Trojans.

USC will be breaking in a new punter and place/field goal kicker.

I expect Jacob Harfman, who will most likely handle punting duties and long field goals and Joe Houston, who probably will kick short field goals, to see a lot of action in the San Jose State game.

In fact, I think that both kickers will get opportunities in the San Jose State game that they will not see the rest of the season.

Pete Carroll needs to see who can be counted on in important games and I think the San Jose State game will serve as the primary dress rehearsal for this.

Look for Carroll to call for field goals even when the game has been decided.

This may piss Dick Tomey off, but when it comes to growing his team, Pete Carroll doesn't care.

Conclusion

As stated before, given the Trojans' ability to overlook a weak opponent, the first order of business is to win this game.

San Jose State continues to make progress and Dick Tomey is a fine coach.

Of course, against a focused Trojan team, none of that matters.

For Pete Carroll, he will have specific goals in mind that will need to be addressed prior to the Ohio State game and the San Jose State game will provide an opportunity to do just that.

While one game does not make for a season of experience, it is all the game time the Trojans have to prepare for the Buckeyes.

I expect Pete Carroll to answer a variety of questions about the Trojans in this game while giving Jim Tressel some of his own to gnaw on.