A focused Trojan effort should lead the Trojans to a victory over a Boston College team that plays a conservative pro-style offense, fitting right into what USC defends against the best. The Trojans also possess offensive speed, even without RB Joe McKnight and Tight End Anthony McCoy that Boston College has yet to see this year.
However, getting the Trojans to play focused and passionate in a normal bowl game will be a tall order for Coach Carroll.
Keys to the Game:
Avoid Complacency: Since 2002, the Trojans have been playing in BCS bowls so it is a foreign concept for the Trojan players to be participating in a lower tier bowl to finish the season. Typically, teams in this situation do not play with the focus and passion that is required to beat an opponent who is looking forward to knocking off a top tier program. With four losses including two where they were soundly beaten, the Trojans cannot think for a second that a pedestrian effort will win this game. Couple that with the loss of four big contributors due to academics or NCAA investigation (McCoy, Spicer, Smith and McKnight), Troy has no room for error.
On the flip side, a focused effort should result in a victory to help wash away some of the disappointment of the season.
Stuff RB Montel Harris early: Boston College Running Back Montel Harris has rushed for 1,355 yards this season and accounts for about 70% of BC’s offense when they win. He is a strong straight ahead runner who also possesses good break away speed. When Harris is running well, especially early, it allows BC to play it safe in the passing game and avoid turnovers. It will be interesting to see how SC fares against Harris. BC runs a very simple offense with uncomplicated blocking schemes which should play right into the Trojans hands. Against similar schemes this year, the Trojans were successful stopping the run but those teams didn’t possess a back like Harris.
It will be bad news for the Trojans If Harris runs the ball around 30 times and rushes for over 150 yards. . .
Confuse the BC Quarterback: 25 year-old freshman Quarterback Dave Shiniskie has had a solid year for BC throwing for 1,831 yards with 14 touchdown passes in a run happy offense. However, he has also thrown 13 interceptions and played awful against teams that mixed things up defensively and possessed team speed like the Trojans. Against Virginia Tech and North Carolina, both games that BC fell behind early and had to throw, Shiniskie was 13 for 31 with 6 interceptions and only 1 td pass. He ended up being pulled in the second half of both games. He does not do a good job of throwing the ball away against pressure and will literally throw it up for grabs at times. The BC coaches have been working with him on just taking the sack or throwing it out of bounds but the Trojans should still get opportunities at multiple interceptions if they contain the running game.
*Offensive keys to the game, players to watch and a little inside the locker room info after the break
**Open up the offense while running Bradford 20-25 times: Though Boston College has a solid defense, they have yet to play a team with the skill position players that USC possesses. This is a great opportunity for a changing of the guard moment at USC in terms of leadership going into next year. A solid performance by Matt Barkley and Alan Bradford will essentially give them the keys to the team bus in the offseason. Hard running by Bradford early on should eventually open up lanes for the passing game to be the most effective it has been since the Oregon State game. The losses of Anthony McCoy and Joe McKnight will hurt, but Ronald Johnson is finally 100% healthy and Curtis McNeal and CJ Gable will fill in admirably for McKnight.
If McKnight is declared eligible before the game, he should be used for about 10 touches at most. If the coaches immediately start him over a player in Bradford that teammates look up to, in my estimations, the focus of many of the players will be lost.
Speaking of Bradford, hopefully this serves as a coming out party for him. Players admit his bruising style of running pumps them up and if he gets the ball often and is successful it will get the Trojans going and possibly convince the coaches a runner like him running it 20-25 times a game is not a bad thing.
Keep an eye on swing passes or delay passes to McNeal and Gable out of the backfield and don’t be surprised if SC goes vertical early to Williams or Johnson. Jordan Cameron has worked some at the Tight End spot and now that he looks to finally be out of offensive coordinator John Morton’s doghouse, he might actually get a chance to contribute and show he should have seen the field all year.
Players to watch for USC:
**WR Ronald Johnson: He is finally healthy and has something to prove going into next year especially with USC bringing in two of the top 3 WR recruits in the country. Damian Williams will be double teamed by Boston College so the opportunities should be plenty for Johnson if Barkley can get him the ball.
**RB Alan Bradford/QB Matt Barkley: If McKnight does not play, it should be the Alan Bradford show and he has been waiting for this opportunity his whole career. In terms of Barkley, this is a chance to erase the late season struggles and take control of the offense. He no longer has a dead arm and isn’t as mentally fatigued. A great opportunity for both Barkley and Bradford to show everyone they are taking over the team going into next year.
**LB Malcolm Smith: He started to play much better down the stretch after really struggling midway through the season. He will have to play big early to help stuff BC’s running game.
**CB Shareece Wright: After missing the season due to academic ineligibility, he is eligible to play and coaches have stated he looks like the team’s best overall cornerback heading into the game. . .
A few notes from the locker room:
*If Mike Shanahan is hired in the NFL it is pretty much a certainty that Quarterbacks Coach/Play Caller Jeremy Bates will be headed back to the NFL. Shanahan absolutely loves Bates. . . .
*Redshirt Freshman Matt Kalil will start at right tackle in place of Tyron Smith.
*Patrick Hall, a major recruit in last year’s recruiting class finally received academic clearance from the NCAA and will enroll in time for spring practice which is great news for a secondary that will be losing quite a few players.