The Trojans will kick off their 2013 redemption tour with an August 29th trip to Oahu, where they’ll play the newly-renamed Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, led by familiar face Norm Chow. USC has opened as 19-point favorites for the Thursday night season opener, but the Warriors should be an improved team in year two under Chow, as they return a ton of starters and gain the eligibility of six transfers.
We kick off our 2013 season preview series, with a look at Hawaii…
Hawaii by the numbers:
2012 Record: 3-9 (1-7 in Mountain West)
18 Returning Starters: 9 on offense, 9 on defense
Key Returners: WR Billy Ray Stutzmann, LB Art Laurel, RB Joey Iosefa, DB John Hardy-Tuliau
Key Losses: DL Paipai Falemalu, DB/KR Mike Edwards, DL Haku Correa, OL Blake Muir
Player to watch: QB Taylor Graham
Last year, Norm Chow gave the keys of the offense to Sean Schroeder, an immediately-eligible graduate transfer from Duke. This year, they’ll finally have the services of Taylor Graham, who transferred to Hawaii from Ohio State after the arrival of Urban Meyer in Columbus. Graham was the 14th ranked pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2010 according to Rivals, and is much more physically able to run Chow’s west coast and semi-vertical passing offense than Schroeder. In spring ball, Graham took the reins at quarterback, though Chow maintains that the job has yet to be won. Should Graham take the first snap on August 29th, he’ll be set to make his first collegiate pass, the exact same situation that Schroeder was in a year ago against USC.
Hawaii’s 2013 outlook
The Rainbow Warriors finished 2012 ranked 101st in passing offense, a mark that they’ll be desperately looking to improve upon this season. At the skill positions, they look to be in a position to make a step forward in Chow’s system, with Graham at quarterback and Billy Ray Stutzmann back for yet another season at wide receiver. But, as the USA Today’s Paul Myerberg pointed out last month, Hawaii will live and die this season on their offensive line. The Warriors were 118th in the country in sacks allowed last year, lose lineman Blake Muir, and have a plethora of injuries. As Myerberg pointed out, a scantly-used converted defensive end had five sacks in the spring game, which doesn’t bode well at all for the offense. Defensively, Hawaii returns plenty of talent, including linebacker Art Laurel and safety John Hardy-Tuliau, which signals an improvement of an already respectable defense for a 3-9 team. The Warriors were third in the nation is pass defense in 2012 and even though they lose shutdown defensive back Mike Edwards, they have the depth to be able to fill in the hole. The defensive line will be an area of concern for Hawaii, as they lose Paipai Falemalu and Haku Correa. Junior Beau Yap will anchor the line and if he can account for some of the lost sack production in Falemalu, Hawaii could be a team that is strong enough against the pass that they force teams to be one dimensional. The only problem? They cannot stop the run. Air Force did exactly that to Hawaii last year, playing the entire game with a one dimensional offense and running on literally every down. They didn’t attempt a single pass. And right on cue, the Falcons putting up 338 yards on the ground, enough for a 21-7 win. They say games are won in the trenches, and that’s not a welcome phrase for Hawaii, who are decent everywhere but up front, on both sides of the ball. Look for another struggling rebuilding year for the Bows, though they’ll be better than last year.
What happened last year:
The Trojans entered the season opener against Hawaii last year ranked No. 1 the AP poll and were looking to prove to the pollsters that they deserved to be there. On the surface, they did that, beating the Warriors 49-10 after jumping to a 35-0 halftime lead. But for USC, there were plenty of flaws in their Week 1 performance, especially on the ground. The Trojans ran for just 81 yards on 23 attempts, despite Hawaii finishing 2012 ranked 88th in rush defense. Plus, Hawaii laid the ground work for a successful strategy in defending the tandem of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. The Warriors, led by defensive backs Tony Grimes and Mike Edwards, crowded Lee and Woods all game long, physically pushing them off of their routes down field. The physicality enabled Matt Barkley to utilize an underneath game through the air, as Hawaii wasn’t going to be beat deep, and they took four practically intentional pass interference penalties to ensure that. The same strategy was deployed by Notre Dame in the final regular season game of the year, only it was targeted primarily on Lee, as the Irish took two intentional pass interference penalties on Lee during the Trojans’ final drive.
Early Prediction: USC 37, Hawaii 13
USC’s offense will likely be sporadic to start with, as it’s not only the season’s first game, but it will be the first game of the post-Barkley era. Hawaii will presumably attempt to bog Lee down as much as possible, giving the Trojans time and space to work out new wrinkles in the offense, in addition to Silas Redd. Defensively, the Trojans return the entire front seven and whether it’s Graham or Schroeder under center for the Rainbows, a weak offensive line will make it awfully hard on Hawaii, even with a rookie USC secondary to bait the deep ball. Trojans should win comfortably, though it’ll be far from flawless. The Fighting Chows will be ready.