USC Football: Newcomers Need Big First Week vs. Hawaii


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USC is considered the team to beat in 2012 by many analysts, beat writers, and certainly members of the Trojan family. After a tumultuous couple of years under the crushing thumb of the NCAA, USC is perceived to have risen from the ashes partly due to Lane Kiffin running a tight ship, and partly due to Trojan golden boy Matt Barkley, and the leadership he delivered to his squad. In 2012 the Trojans return a formidable team, with plenty of veterans suiting up for what is the last shot at a title for many of them. For as seemingly experienced as this USC team is though, there are some glaring talent gaps at certain positions that are going to make or break USC this year.

Sure, the Trojans will face some tough competition this season, but the question that most immediately needs to be answered is whether the Trojans can avoid beating themselves, and succumbing to their lack of depth.

To avoid doing so, young players need to step up, and they need to step up yesterday.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Trojans are incredibly stacked. Once the ball is snapped, Matt Barkley has plenty of options: He can air it out to Marqise Lee or Robert Woods, dish it to Curtis McNeal or Silas Redd, or utilize his two big, physical tight ends, Randall Telfer or Xavier Grimble. The offense’s only real concern is going to be getting Aundrey Walker ready to replace Matt Kalil at left tackle, a project that has had a bit of a slow start with Walker nursing a wrist injury in camp.

In his absence, freshmen Max Tuerk filled his role, and Kiffin lauded his progression. Walker is listed as the starter against Hawai’i, but when he needs to come out, Tuerk is going to have to put that progress to the test. Barkley was sacked a conference-low eight times last season, and if the Trojans want to reach the post-season Promised Land, his line is going to have to keep him on his feet. It’s a tall order to fill for a freshman, so Tuerk needs to display that he can help make that happen if and when his name is called on Saturday.

The real area of concern though for USC is the defense. All of it. The Trojans lost two veteran defensive players during camp: first Devon Kennard due to injury, and second, Isiah Wiley due to academic ineligibility. Replacing Kennard will be J.R. Tavai, a redshirt sophomore with only three games notched into his belt. Obviously, there is now going to be a significant talent gap on the d-line, which could be a big problem for the Trojans down the line when they face tougher opponents.

Tavai will be starting against Hawai’i, and like Tuerk, he needs to play in such a way that the coaches—and the fans, for that matter—have confidence in him to play at the left end.Replacing Wiley will be redshirt sophomore Anthony Brown, whom we saw glimpses of before he broke his ankle last season. Most notably, against Arizona he had 10 tackles, eight of which were solo. Brown is a ferocious tackler, but still needs to work on his coverage skills, something that he has hopefully done throughout camp. Behind him is Torrin Harris, someone we saw make significant strides last season, but also one who struggles with coverage.

At one point, USC’s linebacker corps looked good to go, but then Lamar Dawson hurt his calf and missed most of the second half of camp. Outside linebacker Hayes Pullard moved to the middle position in his absence, after freshmen Scott Starr proved unready to take on the responsibility just yet. If Dawson can’t play against Hawai’i—though he is currently listed as the starter—Pullard will play in his place and another inexperienced guy, redshirt freshmen Anthony Sarao, will start at Will linebacker.

Even at the positions where veteran starters’ names lay, their backups are mostly freshmen, or older guys with little playing time. The Trojans have been dealing with depth issues since before the sanctions hit, so it’s reasonable to assume they know how to make the most of what they have at this point.

Still though, the young Trojans are in for a crash-course of what it means to be a man of Troy, tasked with proving Coach Kiffin right in giving them opportunities to play on Saturday.If Tuerk, Tavai, Sarao, and others fail to rise to the occasion, it is going to be a very, very long season for USC.