Virginia Cavaliers at No. 16 USC Trojans
Head Coach: Mike London (1-0, first year)
Conference: ACC (Coastal)
Stars: RB Keith Payne, CB Ras-I Dowling
Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles, CA)
Time: 7:30 PM PDT
TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: KXSC (listen at kscr.org), 710AM
Spread: Virginia (+20)
Lane Kiffin makes his debut in front of the Trojan faithful under the lights against the Virginia Cavaliers. After playing a run and shoot offense, USC will face a conventional offense that will provide a more realistic picture of how the defense is. The Cavaliers come into this game at 1-0 after posting a 34-13 over the FCS Richmond Spiders. Despite the win, Virginia is considered to be in rebuilding mode with a new coach and a relatively inexperience lineup.
For USC fans, the big player to keep on an eye will be Dillon Baxter. The freshman tailback has garnered a ton of hype after electric runs in the spring, but he was suspended for the opener at Hawaii and will finally take the field. Kiffin has said that Baxter adds a new dimension to the offense and he will likely see a fair amount of reps. It wouldn’t be surprising if Baxter lines up at quarterback at some point as the Trojans try to integrate their own variation of the Wildcat formation.
Marc Tyler’s performance in the opener was extremely impressive as he averaged just over 9 yards per carry against Hawaii. His assignment will be much tougher this week against an aggressive, experienced front four. With some formidable defenses lurking in the Pac-10, this will be an important test for USC’s offensive line ton assert their dominance and open up holes for Tyler. Matt Barkley is at his best when the running game is used to open up the passing game.
Another fascinating matchup will take place between Ronald Johnson and Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling. After scoring four touchdowns against Hawaii (3 on receptions), some started driving the bandwagon for Johnson’s Heisman campaign. Dowling is one of the top NFL-prospects at his position. This week we will find out if Johnson is for real or just a pretender. Overall, Virginia’s secondary is a relatively good unit. Robert Woods made some impressive catches and didn’t play like a freshman against Hawaii. Will both receivers be able to keep it up? The feeling here is that they will find ways to get open and Barkley will have another big game.
Defensively, the Trojans were a mess at Hawaii. They failed to wrap up tackles and let receivers get open too often. Lane Kiffin said he would be very surprised if the defense doesn’t improve this week, and that makes sense. Hawaii’s schemes weren’t something USC will see on a regular basis and they should fare much better against a convention offense. Senior quarterback Matt Verica looked good against Richmond, but USC’s secondary is much more talented despite its inexperience. TJ Bryant may be back to play in this game at cornerback, which would likely be an improvement over Nickell Robey–the true freshman who missed a lot of tackles a week ago. The biggest fear for the USC defense has to be running back Keith Payne. Payne is a bruising, physical back with the physical stature of a Ron Dayne. The last time the Trojans faced such a back–Toby Gerhart–he ran it down their throats. The onus will be on the linebackers to stuff up the running lanes. Also, the defensive line switched around a bit in practice this week with the return of Nick Perry and should be more aggressive. Week 2 will see a major improvement in USC’s defense and some of the worries will be set aside.
Stat of the Week: USC has won 31 straight night games at the Coliseum. (Note: As Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the stat is weird because USC lost to Stanford at night although the game started before it was dark.)
Final Score Prediction: USC 42 – Virginia 17