The last time USC fans got to watch the Trojan offense in a 35-14 loss to UCLA three weeks ago, the group looked noticeably worse than it had all season. The team averaged about 28 points on the year but mustered half of that against the Bruin defense and recorded 314 total yards, about 20% less than the 392 averaged on the season.
Maybe that could be explained by the fact that the offense–more specifically, the offensive line–that Trojan fans watched that night was not the same one playing all year.
Center Marcus Martin suffered a knee injury on the Trojan’s first possession. Guard Aundrey Walker followed in the first possession of the second half with a broken ankle. Neither will play today against Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, leaving some room for concern amongst the Trojan faithful as to whether or not the team can keep up with the high-flying Bulldogs on the scoreboard.
Martin was replaced by sixth-year senior Abe Markowitz and senior John Martinez came in for Walker. The Trojan offensive line surrendered six sacks on the night, more than it had in the last three games combined.
The Bulldog defense USC will face Saturday certainly looks more porous than UCLA’s. The Bruins are ranked 39th in the country for points against while Fresno State comes in at 81st.
But Fresno State’s offense is 5th in the nation, averaging over 45 points a game. The Bulldogs are led by Derek Carr, the quarterback with the most passing yards in the country this season. With USC’s strength all year coming on defense, the matchup today will certainly be an interesting one. Or, at least for half of the possessions.
Despite coming into the game as the lower ranked team in the major polls, USC sits at 25th in the BCS standings but unranked in the AP Poll while Fresno State holds the 20th and 21st spot respectively, USC is favored by six points.
Struggling with reduced scholarships on top of the injuries, the team has very little depth on the offensive line. With a number of the possible backups currently redshirting, the Trojans converted walk-on tight end Nathan Guertler to a lineman for the game. Markowitz will hold down the center with Martinez to his near right at guard and Kevin Graf to his far right at tackle. To Markowitz’s left will be guard Max Tuerk and tackle Chad Wheeler.
If any more of the linemen get hurt, the Trojans are in serious trouble. But if the line stays in tact, that may be enough to keep the USC offense in synch all day. The new group of starters will have had much more time to prepare together as a unit than it did immediately following the injuries during the UCLA game, and we’ll find out today if that added time will be enough for USC to establish control in the trenches.