The USC Trojans open the season Saturday when the Fresno State comes to town.
The last time the Bulldogs were in the building they pushed the Trojans to the limit and Reggie Bush ran rampant in a Heisman-sealing display. Of course, USC and Fresno State have had more recent business which will play it’s part in setting up the match up as well.
Here are the Trojans’ keys to victory:
Focus on the field
The off-the-field distractions for USC this week have been well documented, but it’s time for the Trojans to move on.
This group of players has dealt with distraction before. They’ve made it through sanctions and they took care of business and completed a 10-win season despite coming under the banner of four head coaches over the course of four months.
They have faced more difficult trials than the media frenzy over a one teammate’s lie and another’s outrageous accusations.
Team captains Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor, Max Tuerk, Hayes Pullard and Leonard Williams will need to turn the focus back to the field and the task at hand.
With new systems on both offense and defense, the Trojans can’t afford to lose concentration.
That applies not just to the Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown situations, but also the the potential overlooking of a dangerous opponent.
Although the Trojans handled this same Fresno State team in the Vegas Bowl last year, they shouldn’t expect the same result to magically appear this time as well.
The Bulldogs will be motivated by revenge while USC could get caught looking ahead to next week’s Pac-12 opener against Stanford.
Lean on the run
All of the Trojans’ shiniest new toys will be on display for USC in the passing game, as JuJu Smith, Ajene Harris, Bryce Dixon and Adoree’ Jackson seem likely to make their debuts on Saturday.
However, the running game is what got USC to ten wins in 2013 and it is what will keep them on that hot streak in 2014.
Javorius Allen, aka Buck, stole the show in the latter half of last season and earned USC’s team MVP award for good reason. With a nose for the endzone and flashing the big-play ability USC has cried out for from the running back position since Bush departed, Allen has all the potential to work his way into the Heisman conversation.
But don’t forget Justin Davis, who looked the part in his early appearances before injuring his ankle. The sophomore wowed observers during one fall camp scrimmage at the Coliseum and will be given every opportunity to star in Sarkisians new offense, especially given Tre Madden’s injury problems.
Moreover, the Bulldogs return a solid defensive front which excelled at getting into the backfield in 2013. USC’s raw young offensive line has a tough task ahead of them when it comes to protecting Cody Kessler. One way to take the pressure off is by riding the rushing attack.
Rattle the quarterback
Fresno State has yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game, as Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette continue to fight for the top spot.
It is likely that the announcement won’t be made until game time and there’s an even better chance that both will play against the Trojans anyways.
Burrell has been with the Bulldogs since transferring in from junior college last year and acted as Derek Carr’s back up, but his experience at the D1 level is very limited. Connette, on the other hand, played in 39 games for Duke, though he only started five.
Connette’s ability to run should worry the Trojans. He scored 13 on the ground in 2013.
Still, neither quarterback is a seasoned veteran and neither will enjoy the protection afforded by departed left tackle Austin Wentworth, who helped keep Carr’s jersey clean last season and during the bowl game match up against USC’s defensive front.
The Trojans boast a formidable group of players who will be tasked with rushing the passer. Leonard Williams is an All-American, while J.R. Tavai proved effective in that role. Scott Felix has also emerged as a potentially major figure in replacing Devon Kennard’s pass rush production from last year.
Keeping Burrell and Connette uncomfortable will certainly hinder an offense which weighs heavily on the success of the passing game.