Other than players remaining healthy, how successful of a 2013 season the USC Trojans will have is going to greatly depend on the physicality and play of their defensive and offensive lines. There are no qualms made about the importance of winning the battles at the line of scrimmage and how it translates to winning games.
On numerous occasions last season the Trojans were dominated at the point of attack, succumbing to physical beatings from the lines of Stanford and Notre Dame. It was a grim reality for a program that was accustomed to being the aggressor and pushing their opponents off the line of scrimmage. In an April interview, Lane Kiffin said his 2012 Trojans “were not a physical football team the entire year,” and declared a dedication to returning to hard nose football.
From an offensive standpoint, the Trojans must not only protect the signal caller Kiffin ultimately decides on, but they also need to be able to establish a reliable rushing attack. In 2012, the Trojans averaged five yards per rush, which isn’t an underwhelming average, and given the bevy of talented running backs on the 2013 roster, a similar average should be well within reach this season. However, they did only manage 12 touchdowns on the ground, and collectively, their opponents out-rushed the Trojans by 213 yards.
The often spotty run game last season caused drives to sputter and at times limited the effectiveness of the passing game, which was led by a four-year starter in Matt Barkely. Should the 2013 rushing results mirror last season’s efforts, it would presumably be enough to handcuff the offense quarterbacked by the less-experienced Cody Kessler or Max Wittek.
Having a potent running game will also be key in the development Kessler or Wittek. Being able to effectively run the ball will allow the Trojans to utilize play-action and help open up the field for Marqise Lee, Nelson Agohlar, and the rest of the receivers. The threat of a play-action pass is a vital component of the Trojan offense and that importance is multiplied tenfold with Barkley no longer at the helm.
Defensively, the responsibility of controlling the line of scrimmage will fall on the down linemen led by, Leonard Wililams, George Uko, and Antwaun Woods. As well as with expected pressure provided off the edge from Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin, and other edge rushers. The leaders in the front seven are an experienced group who should benefit from Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive scheme.
A successful pass rush will also provide aid to the secondary, where rotations remain unsettled. Any pressure that can be taken off the young players in the back four until they are able to acclimate themselves to the increase in their individual roles would be a welcomed sight.
The Trojans will be provided with plenty of opportunities to display their recaptured physicality along the line of scrimmage. Should the lines fail to improve on last season’s play, games against physical fronts of Notre Dame, Oregon State, and Stanford will once again be treacherous to watch for the Trojan faithful.