USC vs. Western Michigan: 5 Wrinkles to sneak into the Trojan game plan

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

The USC vs. Western Michigan game is a chance for the Trojans to sneak some wrinkles into their game plan, for both short-term and long-term success.

USC vs. Western Michigan will mark the first time the Trojans will face a Mid-American Conference opponent. Coincidentally it will also be the first time that WMU will face an opponent from the Pac-12.

The unfamiliar opponent should give USC plenty to worry about, but the cannot afford to overlook WMU, even though they have a titanic clash with Stanford in Week 2.

In order to take care of the Broncos and make sure that the Cardinal have extra film work here are five things that USC can add to the game plan:

Spread the Broncos out on defense

The WMU Broncos have eight returning starters on defense, including three seniors at linebacker.

The Broncos defensive line is relatively inexperienced and while the Trojans are reshuffling positions, a lot of the offensive line has seen playing time, which means the USC offensive line should be able to get movement and open up holes.

The problem is that Western Michigan has three experienced seniors capable of diagnosing and reacting much faster to what they are seeing, which means penetration from the second level resulting in tackles for loss or little gain.

To counter this USC should come out in three and four wide receiver sets, or flex the tight end out into the slot position if they want to stay close to their base look. The goal is to get the Broncos into their nickel package and get one of those linebackers off the field and replace him with a less experienced defensive back.

Run the ball on them once they’re spread out

The WMU defense gave up 153.8 rushing yards per game in 2016. They also gave up over 200 yards on the ground four times against Georgia Southern, Kent State, Northern Illinois and Toledo.

Once USC spreads them out and gets that extra defensive back on the field, the Trojans can pound them in the run game.

Nico Falah, Viane Talamaivao, and Chuma Edoga all have experience. Getting that right side of the offensive line against an inexperienced nose tackle could be key to getting blockers to the second level. Getting blocks on the second level against a spread-out defense will result in big plays for Ronald Jones II and Aca’Cedric Ware.

Challenge the Bronco’s offense

The Broncos are replacing a plethora of talent at the skill positions. Their leading receiver from 2016, Corey Davis is now playing in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans. The leading passer, quarterback, Zack Terrell, and his 12,000 passing yards and 96 touchdowns are also gone.

All that’s left is redshirt sophomore Jon Wassink, a quarterback who has not seen any action in college, and group of receivers with 19 catches between them. That group of receivers is led by sophomore D’Wayne Eskridge and redshirt sophomore Keishawn Watson, who had 17 and two receptions respectively in 2016.

With the Broncos rebuilding the passing attack, USC needs to take advantage of its own experience at defensive back.

If Iman Marshall, Jack Jones, and Ajene Harris can provide tight coverage one-on-one, USC can then stack the box and make it difficult on the trio of running backs that WMU is going to rely on to take the pressure off their young QB.

The tight coverage will also force a quarterback in his first game to make every throw on target, which is a big task for someone in their first game with Rasheem Green and Porter Gustin charging at them.

If Wassink misses passes while USC is press coverage, there will be a lot of tipped passes and chances for turnovers for the Trojan secondary.

Show a little razzle dazzle

Typically, people say that having to run trick plays is a sign your offense is struggling. This is one of those things is said if the trick play fails. If it works, it’s a brilliant call at the perfect time and the coordinator is instantly a genius.

Well, offensive coordinator Tee Martin is a smart man and proved to be a great play caller last year. So it would not be surprising if USC, after just forcing a turnover or three-and-out, takes a shot with gadget play.

Landing a haymaker like that could go far in energizing the home crowd and the USC offense. It also puts something else on film for Stanford to prepare for.

Stanford knows that USC likes to run the double pass with Jalen Greene, but give them something else to think about during the week.

Maybe a wildcat look with Greene, Jones II and Stephen Carr all in the back field at once. Or line Greene up in the backfield as the highly publicized “Adoree’ Jackson Role” and have him throw from there. Anything as long as it works and makes USC fans, WMU fans, and Stanford coaches say, “What was that?”

Get the freshmen involved

USC does not have a bye week this season, so depth and rotational packages are going to be important. If the Trojans are going to mount a successful playoff charge they will have to rely on freshmen to make plays.

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It may seem like something obvious, but with the way USC’s schedule is set up, getting the freshmen playing time is critically important. The Trojans have big games against Stanford and Texas in the coming weeks. Making sure the freshmen have experience in these raucous situations will be key against these opponents.

Little things like getting set up when USC pushes the pace, making sure the right person is on or off the line of scrimmage are important. You want the freshmen to have experience doing that in real time. So it can be made sure they’re doing it correctly each time. Getting those reps will make sure that the mistakes are limited when Stanford and Texas visit the Coliseum

Defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu, DT Brandon Pili and linebacker Levi Jones on defense, as well as Carr, receivers Josh Imatorbhebhe, Randal Grimes and Joseph Lewis IV, tight end Josh Falo and pretty much anyone on the offensive line or the receiving corps who might see playing time in 2017 should get a chance to prove their worth. That way the coaching staff can be in a position where they feel comfortable getting these guys on the field.