USC vs. Hawaii: Six Observations From Saturday’s Slaughter
Here are six observations from last night’s USC vs. Hawaii game.
1. USC needs to better establish its running game
The final score may state 49-10 in favor of USC, with the Trojans racking up 448 total yards of offense against the Warriors, but what should we make of this outburst? While the USC passing attack showed flavor and artistry, the biggest concern should lie with the lack of power running plays and play action boots on Saturday night.
The Trojans notched 82 yards rushing on 23 carries, with only 14 of those touches given to featured backs Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal. Redd rushed for 57 yards, highlighted by his 31-yard gallop into the end zone in the second quarter. Outside of that, the Trojans running game was stifled all evening by a team that allowed over 142 yards rushing per game last season.
Last season, the Trojans averaged over 32 rushes per game, racking up 162 yards per contest. Last night however, the Trojans used the running game as an occasional complimentary piece to their high-flying passing attack. It was successful, and will work against mediocre competition, but if the Trojans want to succeed they must look to reincorporate the run game into their offense.
The combination of Redd and McNeal gives USC a power-running tandem that can compete with any duo in the PAC-12, and should allow Matt Barkley to utilize even more openings down the field. In the past two seasons with Kiffin at the helm, the USC offense has thrived using play action passing, via the naked bootleg, to create nice dump off options and the occasional deep completion.
If the Trojans want to become elite offensively, they must look to carry the rock more than 23 times per game. Then, Barkley will be able to control the time of possession for USC, while creating even more options for the offense in the short, play-action passing game that has fared so well for him throughout his career.
2. USC’s “biggest weakness” was arguably its greatest strength Saturday night
The biggest area of concern heading into the season for USC was its depth and experience on its defensive line. Outside of Wes Horton, it features one freshman, Antwaun Woods, alongside two sophomores, J.R. Tavai and George Uko.
In week one, the defensive line showed fans/pundits why preseason predictions aren’t always reliable. It contributed 5 sacks on the evening and put constant pressure on Hawaii quarterback Sean Schroeder. The Trojans used their overwhelming speed and power to maul the Hawaiian offensive line. This allowed players on the second level to penetrate the gaps on run plays.
In his first game at DE, J.R. Tavai stepped up, playing strong against the run by holding the edge and eliminating cut back lanes. Not only did Tavai play above expectations, Greg Townsend and Morgan Breslin (second stringers) each delivered walloping sacks that literally devoured Schroeder in the pocket.
The biggest concern moving forward for USC’s D-line is its strength against the power running game. While USC sealed the edge well and limited Will Gregory’s room to cutback, he did have some relative success running the ball right into the teeth of the defense. Overall however, the tenacity and toughness exhibited by USC’s D-line was impressive.
3. Marquise Lee put on a Heisman-worthy performance
After coming on the scene late in the 2011 season as a freshman, Marquise Lee wasted no time in 2012 in the big play department. In the first play from scrimmage, Lee turned a six-yard out route into a 75-yard touchdown, igniting the Trojan offense.
In the third quarter, Hawaii methodically drove down the field and scored a touchdown; but Lee responded by returning the kickoff 100 yards for a score, effectively putting the game out of reach. Lee was explosive all night, using his speed, world-class leaping ability and strong hands to make Hawaii’s defenders look foolish.
One catch in particular by Lee was Heisman worthy: Late in the third quarter, Barkley threw a high pass over the linebacker’s head on a post; Lee flew sky-high into the air and snatched the pass for a 14-yard reception. Those types of plays are rare in college football and truly show his development as a receiver and route runner, not to mention his freakish athleticism.
Lee finished the night with 10 receptions for 197 yards and one touchdown receiving, along with his 100-yard kickoff return for another score.
4. Max Wittek will be a viable option at quarterback in 2013
In the fourth quarter, we finally got a look at the future of USC football in second string quarterback Max Wittek. After throwing with Matt Barkley on the sideline for much of the game, Wittek finally got a few series to take center stage for the Trojans.
Wittek certainly has the physique of a college quarterback, and the zing and touch on his passes was superb. He will be a viable option in 2013 because of his arm strength, mobility and great vision down the field. On the night, Wittek completed both of his passes for a total of 15 yards, firing strikes to the sideline.
If Wittek continues to impress in practice and learns the playbook, the Trojans will be in good hands when Barkley moves on to the NFL.
5. T.J. McDonald is a monster on defense
Being the son of a professional football player and playing for his father’s alma mater seems daunting, but T.J. McDonald is making a name for himself as a legitimate first-round prospect.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound safety attacked the line of scrimmage all night, wreaking havoc on the Hawaii rushing attack. Not only did he lay big hits, but McDonald also did a tremendous job in coverage, especially in Cover 2 packages. As the anchor of the USC defense, McDonald made life easier for his defensive counterparts all evening.
6. The challenge system needs work
The challenge system in college football is slowing down the pace of play. The NCAA’s intention of getting the call right is obviously sound, but the amount of time it takes officials to come to easy conclusions is frustratingly long. In the USC game, replay was used four times, and each time, the right call was fairly obvious after one look at it.
Now Check Out: USC Recap: Not Much Fight In The Warriors