Last year the Trojans rolled up 475 yards and put 49 points on the board against this Warriors’ defense. There isn’t much expectation of that changing this year despite Matt Barkley and Robert Woods preparing to start their rookie campaigns in the NFL.
Most of the damage was done through the air, with Barkley throwing for 372 yards and Marqise Lee hauling in 10 receptions for 197 yards. This year the damage should and most likely will be done on the ground, despite Silas Redd not making the trip to paradise.
With the Trojans breaking in a new signal caller and possibly rotating Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, it would be a great time for the Trojans to establish a hard-nose ground game to break these young QBs in. This is also a great defense to do it against.
This defense returns eight starters from a unit that surrendered 428 points in just 12 games. Their 35.67 points per game allowed ranked 104th in the FBS. The Warriors gave up a total of 60 touchdowns, including 34 on the ground (only three teams allowed more rushing touchdowns).
The strength of the defense is found in the secondary, which ranked 11th nationally in yards allowed per game, allowing just under 183 yards. This is most likely due to how porous their run defense was.
The star of the secondary is sophomore free safety Marrell Jackson (6-0, 185) who has great range and puts himself in position to make plays on the ball. Joining Jackson in the secondary will be cornerbacks Dee Maggitt (5-10, 170) and Nequan Phillips (5-9, 185) along with strong safety John Hardy-Tuliau (5-11, 180). This secondary doesn’t have the ability to cover the Trojans’ talented receivers but the question will be can the Trojans’ quarterbacks get the ball out and push it downfield.
What could open up the passing game for Wittek and Kessler is establishing a running game with Justin Davis, Tre Madden, and Ty Issac behind an experienced offensive line. The Warriors are not very sound up front and this showed once they got into league play last year. In four of their nine conference games the defense allowed over 300 yards on the ground. In conference they allowed an average of 237 yards on the ground. The question then becomes what kind of commitment Lane Kiffin shows to the running game to ensure his quarterbacks have some easy passing lanes.
Trying to disrupt the Trojans’ offense from the Warriors’ undersized front 7 will be Tavita Woodard (6-4, 260) and Beau Yap (6-2, 260) at defensive ends. Playing the tackles will be Siasau Matagiese (6-2, 300) and Moses Samia (6-1, 300). This group has a total of 8.5 sacks between them, all from the defensive end positions and 5.5 of those from Woodard.
Manning the linebacker positions will be Brenden Daley (6-3, 250) in the middle with Jerrol Garcia-Williams (6-2, 215) on the strong side and Art Laurel (6-0, 245) on the weak side. Despite 21 starts between this group in 2012, none are among the top tacklers on the team. That distinction falls to the starting safeties, Jackson and Hardy-Tuliau, which is never a good sign when both your safeties are the top tacklers.
The match-up between the Trojans’ offense and the Warriors’ defense should be a good measuring stick to start the season. Tune in to CBS Sports Network on Thursday night at 8p Pacific Time to watch the Trojans take on the Warriors.