Though the coaches are happy USC technically pulled out the victory against ASU, they did allow ASU to have a chance to win the game down the stretch.
In order to beat the 15th ranked Wildcats, the Trojans will need to mirror the performance they had against Stanford earlier this year. Despite losing late in that game, the Trojans fought to the end and will win the game against the Wildcats with a similar performance.
Arizona has the best passing offense in the Pac-10 and will have success against the Trojans porous secondary. However, the Trojans are improving in this area and the good news is that Safety Marshall Jones will start for the second consecutive week. He made some great plays against ASU and will be counted on to help stop an NFL caliber receiver in Arizona’s 6’4 Wideout Juron Criner. The Trojans defense will need to take the next step in its slow improvement and make a few plays early so Matt Barkley and company can take advantage and give USC a lead going into the 4th quarter.
They will need it. Arizona has a 60-39 scoring edge in the final quarter against opponents this season while USC has been outscored 84-55 and lost the fourth-quarter scoring battle in seven of its nine games.
The Trojans need to score 35+ points and do everything it can to not give the Wildcat offense enough time to score at the end of the game.
Tailback rotation: Look for either Marc Tyler or Dillon Baxter to start at Running Back against the Wildcats on Saturday. Tailback Marc Tyler was limited in practice on Wednesday due to an ankle sprain in the ASU victory but returned to practice on Thursday. The odd man out is Alan Bradford and unfortunately for the senior back it could remain that way for awhile. Politically, Kiffin needs to give Dillon Baxter a strong look since rumblings persisted earlier in the year that he was seriously considering transferring schools. Due to scholarship limitations and the difficulty of recruiting star players during probation, the Trojan coaching staff feels they cannot lose a player of Baxter’s ability and want him to feel some love.
Tyler has been the most consistent Trojan back and a good compliment to Baxter’s cut back style. It also is not a secret that Kiffin is looking toward the future with some of his personnel decisions. Although, it only takes one or two fumbles for Bradford to get another chance in the revolving door of the USC running back situation.
Look for the Wildcat…with a little spice: The Trojans were not in a position to really utilize the Wildcat against Arizona State. However, look for the Trojans to use it a fair amount to try and keep the solid Arizona defense off-balance. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the unveiling of Dillon Baxter throwing out the formation, possibly to Matt Barkley in a red zone situation. Teams have not been paying much attention to Barkley when he is lined up as a WR. Speaking of Barkley…
Look for Barkley to bounce back: For the past few games, Barkley has been trying to make something happen and/or waiting for his wide receivers to get open in space instead of throwing timing routes. He is missing the rhythm he was playing with earlier in the season. The offensive coaches have been focusing on this all week and I also believe that Robert Woods being 100% this week will make a big difference. He will command a lot of attention from the Arizona secondary and allow more 1-1 situations for Ronald Johnson, Stanley Havili, David Ausberry and others. As long as the offensive line has a good day and Robert Woods makes a few plays early, Barkley should have a very solid evening in Tucson. If not, it will be extremely difficult for the Trojans to win.
Recruit watch: USC received an offensive line commitment from Cody Temple of Bakersfield. He picked USC over schools like Washington State and Fresno State, which shows USC just wants linemen. USC also received a commitment from defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson of College of the Sequoias. He switched his commitment from Missouri. Hopefully Ed Orgeron sees something in these players that others do not as these are not the highly touted recruits USC is used to getting.
Still struggling against the spread: USC is 3-6 against the spread this season. For comparison purposes, lowly Washington State is 6-4.
Basketball could surprise: Just like I thought last year, the Trojan hoops team is a little underrated. I was fortunate enough to observe a practice last week and if they can avoid injuries, the Trojans could battle to be a top three or four team in the Pac-10. The Trojans possess the best frontcourt in the Pac-10 in potential All-Pac-10 Forward 6’10 Nikola Vucevic and 6’9 Alex Stephenson, who will probably lead the conference in rebounding.
Despite losing Dwight Lewis, the Trojans back-court is bolstered with the addition of Freshman Bryce Jones who has the ability to step in and fill in the scoring void of Lewis. The 6’6 guard has a solid three-point shot and penetrates to the basket very well. Senior back-up point guard Donte’ Smith might be the most improved player I have seen over a two year player. He has improved his shot and conditioning tremendously, displaying consistent NBA 3-point range in scrimmage situations and he provides Coach O’Neil senior leadership off the bench. Freshman point guard Maurice Jones may only be 5’7 but he can flat out fly and will spark the Trojans fast break. He will have an adjustment period to get through but will compliment starting point guard Jio Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, a legit NBA prospect that will be eligible to play at the start of Pac-10 play.
The biggest problem the Trojans will have is depth, which is no surprise with scholarship limitations. USC doesn’t really have any options in the front court off the bench so if Stephenson and Vucevic get in foul trouble they will operate at a severe disadvantage. USC will be lucky to go 8 deep this year and that might ultimately lead to their demise down the stretch this year.
Even with depth issues, the Trojans will be a competitive bunch when conference play rolls around and Trojan fans should definitely plan on visiting the Galen Center this year.
HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!!