Gameday: USC Trojans vs. Hawaii Warriors


Hawaii Warriors at USC Trojans

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum4:30 PM | FOXAll-time Series: USC 6-0-0, (2005 win vacated)Last meeting: USC 49, Hawaii 36 in 2010

It’s been nine long months since USC finished off their 2011 season with a sound 50-0 victory over UCLA. Yet, it’s been three years since the Trojans went into a season knowing they were able to compete for a national championship. NCAA Sanctions and a bowl ban have made the Lane Kiffin era awfully interesting over the last 26 months, and no one expected that the Trojans would be a preseason No. 1 with a Heisman Trophy front-runner in their first season following the ban. But here they are, ready to start their second season in a twelve-team conference, the first season of the Pac-12’s lucrative television contract, and the it all begins against a very familiar foe: Norm Chow.

Chow comes into the Coliseum making history, as the first Asian-American head coach in major college football. As a Hawaii native, it’s fitting that Chow would get his chance to be a head coach with the Warriors. It’s a reclamation project on the island, but with a move to a new conference and no more Boise State in 2013, Chow’s chance for success at Hawaii appears to be strong. It’ll take a baptism at the Coliseum to begin that tenure however, with Hawaii bringing just 10 returning starters to Los Angeles to face the Trojans and a 40-point spread.

It’s a big gap for Vegas, and unless the Trojans can buck a trend, it’s one they won’t cover. In the first two Week 1 games under Kiffin, USC has struggled mightily. In 2010, the Trojans gave up 588 yards to Hawaii, and last season, it was a scrappy Minnesota team that scored 17 straight points and if it wasn’t for a late Torin Harris interception, the Gophers could have waltzed their way to an upset in the Coliseum.

Can the Trojans start the season on the right foot and justify the polls? We’ll find out beginning at 4:30 in the Coliseum.

Hawaii Offense

The Warrior offense is in the midst of a dramatic change. Gone is their famed run-and-shoot offense, and in is Norm Chow’s balanced pro-set offense. Chow’s offense has been hit and miss since departing BYU in 2000, and the creation of a running game at Hawaii won’t happen overnight. The Warriors have had just one 1,000-yard rusher since 1992, and were 111th on the ground in 2011. They return three starters at receiver and a tight end, though their offensive line has to replace four starters, only returning Dave Lefotu at right guard. [Click here for more on Hawaii’s Offense]

Returning Starters: 6Key Returners: RB Joey Iosefa, WR Billy Ray Stutzmann, RG Dave LefotuKey Losses: QB Bryant Moniz, WR Royce Pollard, OL Clayton Laurel, OL Levi Legay,Offensive Set: Pro-Style

Projected StartersWR Billy Ray StutzmannTE Craig CoferLT Blake MuirLG Kapua SaiC Ben ClarkeRG Dave LefotuRT Sean ShigematsuWR Scott HardingQB Sean SchroederRB Joey IosefaRB Will Gregory

USC Offense:

Where do you start with the Trojan offense? Troy returns a passer that set a record for touchdown passes and threw for more than 3,500 yards a year ago, along with two 1,000-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard backs. Silas Redd will be the newcomer getting all the attention this evening, in his first game since transferring from Penn State. He and Curtis McNeal will give USC a potent two-headed backfield for perhaps the first time since 2005, and the talent at receiver, with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee could have more than that of the previous potent receiver tandems that have been featured in the Trojans’ passing game over the last 20 years. The lone weakness? Inexperience at left tackle, where Aundrey Walker gets the task of filling Matt Kalil’s very large shoes.

Returning Starters: 10Key Returners: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, C Khaled HolmesKey Losses: LT Matt Kalil, FB Rhett EllisonOffensive Set: Pro-Style

Projected StartersWR Robert WoodsTE Xavier Grimble or Randall TelferLT Aundrey WalkerLG Marcus MartinC Khaled HolmesRG John MartinezRT Kevin GrafWR Marqise LeeQB Matt BarkleyRB Curtis McNeal or Silas ReddFB Soma Vainuku

Hawaii Defense:

The Warriors were a middle-of-the-pack defense against the run in 2011, giving up 142 yards per game, though five new starters in the front seven has got to loom well for USC, with Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd set to split carries on Saturday. Linebacker Art Laurel returns, along with end Paipai Falemalu, and they will need to get pressure on the the Trojans’ offensive line. Hawaii returns free safety John Hardy-Tuliau, a product of Vista Murrieta, the home to USC’s current Class of 2013 safety, Su’a Cravens. Hardy-Tuliau snared three interceptions as a sophomore in 2011, and will anchor the secondary, along with corner Mike Edwards. [Click here for more on Hawaii’s Defense]

Returning Starters: 4Key Returners: FS John Hardy-Tuliau, SLB Art Laurel, DE Paipai FalemaluKey Losses: MLB Corey Paredes, OLB Aaron BrownDefensive Set: 4-3

Projected StartersDE Paipai FalemaluDT Siasau MatagieseNT Moses SamiaDE Beau YapWLB George Daily-LylesMLB TJ TaimatuiaSLB Art LaurelCB Tony GrimesSS Bubba Poueu-LunaFS John Hardy-TuliauCB Mike Edwards

USC Defense:

With USC ranked No. 1, the biggest critique for the Trojans is about the defense. The Trojans return seven starters, eight if you count Torin Harris or Anthony Brown, who started at corner before season-ending injuries last fall. But despite the returning talent at linebacker and safety, just one starter returns on the defensive line, after senior Devon Kennard tore his pectoral at the end of July. George Uko thrived in the spring to win the defensive tackle spot, while J.R. Tavai had a strong camp in his first stint at left defensive end to take over for Kennard. Antwaun Woods however, starts at nose tackle, playing his first ever college football game today. The secondary will be the strongest in a while, with plenty of returners including Thorpe front-runner T.J. McDonald, and if Lamar Dawson can start at middle linebacker, the Trojans will start all three returners at linebacker.

Returning Starters: 8Key Returners: FS T.J. McDonald, CB Nickell Robey, SLB Dion BaileyKey Losses: DE Devon Kennard(injury), NT Christian Tupou, DT DaJohn HarrisOffensive Set: 4-3

Projected StartersDE J.R. TavaiDT George UkoNT Antwaun WoodsDE Wes HortonWLB Hayes PullardMLB Lamar DawsonSLB Dion BaileyCB Nickell RobeySS Jawanza StarlingFS T.J. McDonaldCB Anthony Brown


Norm Chow will enter the Coliseum on Saturday for just the third time as an opponent. The first two, in 2009 with UCLA and in 2011 with Utah, won’t be nearly as special as this go around however, and rightfully so, given the long journey Hawaii’s newly-appointed head coach has endured to get to where he is.

USC comes into this season with the top ranking in the country, the Heisman Trophy favorite, multiple preseason All-Americans and a ton of hype. Most of that praise is deserved, but hype is a dangerous thing. Over inflated egos are just waiting for the right underdog to burst their bubble. That is precisely why the coaching staff had “Prep Not Hype” painted onto the practice field and why that motto is a constant refrain among players.

For all intents and purposes the Trojans have a completely new defensive line.  Between the four starters (Wes Horton, J.R. Tavai, Antwaun Woods, and George Uko), there were seven starts between them in 2011 and all seven came from Horton.  How will this group perform against the run?  Will they get up field and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage?  Will they get pressure on the quarterback and dirty up his uniform?

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.

Game Notes:

  • Last time the Trojans hosted Hawaii was in 2003, when USC outscored Timmy Chang and the Warriors 61-32, before going on to eventually win the AP National Championship.
  • This is the first time Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin will meet as head coaches. However, they’ve met four times previously, including once in the NFL. Chow’s only victory was in 2007 as the Tennessee Titan’s offensive coordinator, with a 13-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
  • Hawaii is 29-51 against the teams currently in the Pac-12, while USC is 18-1 vs. current Mountain West teams, though that includes two vacated wins(Hawaii and Fresno State in 2005, when they were members of the WAC), and the lone loss coming in the 1992 Freedom Bowl vs. Trent Dilfer and Fresno State. In the history of the Mountain West, USC has only lost once to a then-member, and that came in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl against Utah.
  • The sellout crowd of 93,607 will be the largest crowd Hawaii has played before in school history.
  • Due to the opening of the Expo Line this spring, this will be the first USC game at the Coliseum accessible by light rail since September 26, 1953, when the Trojans beat Minnesota 17-7 in from 66,698. That season, Troy won their first nine games and were ranked as high as No. 2, before losing the final game to 7th ranked Notre Dame.