The Trojans didn’t just defeat the Hawaii Warriors by a wide margin, 49-10, they began a new era at the Coliseum on Saturday night, in front of a sellout crowd who came to see the No. 1 ranked team.
If you had to draw up the perfect way to begin life after a bowl ban, you wouldn’t have been disappointed by the Trojans performance, as the question marks going into the season were answered positively, the star players put up their numbers and several new players not only got their feet wet, but excelled.
Offensively, the Trojans didn’t take long to get started. Matt Barkley hooked up with Marqise Lee on the first play of the game for a 75-yard touchdown reception, on a play that wound up being Lane Kiffin’s perfect metaphor for coming out of the shadows of playing meaningless football for the last two seasons.
Despite all of the pressure on Lee to better himself from his stellar second half of the season in 2011, Lee was on top of his game on Saturday night, finishing with 291 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including a 100-yard kickoff return for a score in the third quarter.
The sophomore not only made his case to justify his new role as the Trojans’ flanker, but his versatility as an all-purpose player may have just put a couple of more eyes on him for postseason awards, ahead of teammate Robert Woods.
Woods had two highlight reel touchdown catches and played a big role in the passing game, despite finishing the night with just five catches. In the first half, Woods drew two pass interference penalties from Hawaii corner Tony Grimes, and in the second half, the junior wideout just missed on adding a couple of more receptions, as mutliple passes deflected off of his fingers despite leaping attempts.
Despite the Trojans’ passing attack looking in mid-season form, Barkley threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns, the running game lacked a rhythm. Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd split carries at tailback, but the duo combined for just 67 yards on 14 carries, 31 of those yards came on a fourth down play, in what was Redd’s first touchdown run at USC.
But for all intents and purposes, the running game for the Trojans was the only disappointing facet of the game, because the defense made sure they weren’t entirely going to be upstaged by Marqise Lee or Matt Barkley, as speculated since last the end of last season.
Since Devon Kennard went down at the end of July, finding experience on the defensive line was a concern for the Trojans. USC was set to break in three new starters on the line against Hawaii, with just Wes Horton returning at defensive end. Not only did the three new starters– J.R. Tavai, Antwaun Woods and George Uko– prove that they were game-ready, but so did their replacements: Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams and Greg Townsend Jr.
The Trojans forced Hawaii to be one dimensional all night, as the they repeatedly penetrated through the offensive line that returned just one starter from a year ago. While that gave USC an advantage, the Trojans showed no signs of inexperience and Coach Ed Orgeron had the defensive line ready to go, as evident with the Warriors being held to just 56 yards on the ground.
Breslin, a junior college transfer from Diablo Valley College, could very well have been the Trojans’ defensive MVP, as he was in the backfield all night and wound up playing most of the night in place of Horton. With the Trojans needing linemen to step up, Breslin may have just won a starting job with his performance against Hawaii, picking up multiple sacks on the night.
If the Trojans can continue to show that they can pressure the quarterback and get leverage in the trenches, it’ll go a long way towards allowing the stars on defense, players like T.J McDonald and Hayes Pullard, to play to their strengths, rather having to take on too much in the secondary and at linebacker.
Through one week, so far, so good for USC.