The Trojans made a statement at home last Saturday versus Arkansas State, playing at a fast tempo that blew by the Red Wolves. There were plenty of big plays by the Trojans (which we expected) that put the game to bed before the first half was over. As Sarkisian and The Men of Troy improve to 1-0 there were plenty of things we saw that the Trojans can continue with and keep improving. As the Trojans prepare for this Saturday's contest against the Idaho Vandals, we point out five things that need to be seen by USC this weekend.
Madden & Crew Produce More On the Ground
Tre Madden led an explosive offense and some anxious freshman backs on the ground last week in a ground assault against the Red Wolves. The Trojans averaged nearly 6 yards a carry on the ground, thanks to a couple of big runs by Madden. I expect USC to feed Madden the ball even more this week to prepare for Stanford on the 19th, and for Madden to make up for lost time. Madden showed he can run hard and break away from defenders as he did both on a big 65 yard run in the first quarter. Madden's vision and patience gives the Trojans an advantage, as Madden sets up blocks and attacks the hole. The freshman Trio behind him made up of Dominic Davis, Ronald Jones II, and Aca'Cedric Ware, showed plenty of promise as they slashed through the Red Wolves starting defense scoring two combined touchdowns. Davis made up for his first carry of two yards by becoming an asset in the air, hauling in two passes for 53 yards. Idaho allowed 206 rushing yards in their season debut versus the University of Ohio, I expect the Trojans to rush for 280 yards or more. The better the Trojans are on the ground, the more dangerous our receiving core will become.
Kessler & O-Line Communication Improves
Cody Kessler was dragged to the ground five times in the first half, from the result of the Red Wolves front seven. I will give Arkansas State credit for getting to Kessler five times but lets face it: Kessler and the line shot themselves in the foot. The Red wolves applied pressure, confusing the Trojans' read in the box. Arkansas State did nothing fancy as they showed delayed blitzes, bull rushed, and at times brought pressure from both sides. The Trojans were not physically beaten or fooled by the Red Wolves, as they quickly made corrections in the second half. Max Tuerk and Cody Kessler simply did not adjust when they saw the defense, which led to the line losing a man and giving up big plays. Kessler should expect the Vandals to sneak around and apply pressure early, hoping to slow down the Trojans offense. When Tuerk and Kessler realize the pressure they should change up the protection and alert the receivers to change their route. This will lead to positive yardage and force the Vandals to respect the passing game or Ju Ju Smith Schuster will have another big touchdown catch.
Improve 3rd Down Efficiency
The Trojans are lucky this wasn't a tight game, or they would've found themselves in a world of trouble. Fortunately this is game one and teams are rusty, things like this can be fixed throughout the year. If the Trojans expect to be an elite team their down efficiency will have to take a step forward. The Trojans found themselves 30% (3-10) converting on 3rd down, which led to a turnover on downs and two USC punts early in the first half. The Trojans need to use this game to improve that percentage and they should be flawless on third down this week versus the Vandals. Idaho only allowed Ohio to convert 4-10 on third down last week but gave up a costly fourth down to let the Bobcats keep a drive alive. USC should call the right plays this week and learn from their mistakes to be 80% or better on third down.
Secondary & D-Line Producing
Did we see a rejuvenated defense last weekend in the Coliseum or what? It's a bird, it's a plane, NO its Chris Hawkins picking off Arkansas State's offense. Everyone knows it is quite simple: the defensive line and secondary's performance reflect off of each other. When the defensive line brought pressure to Arkansas State's limping offense, the secondary prevailed and came up with the plays necessary. As the secondary continued to provide great coverage across the board, the defensive line was having parties in the backfield. The Trojans did not show much, but they did enough to show how special this defensive unit can be. Health has haunted this defensive line for some time now but with a healthy Antwaun Woods and Kenny Bigelow Jr. the Trojans have depth and power. For the secondary it is piecing together with emerging talent like Chris Hawkins, John Plattenburg, Iman Marshall, and Kevon Seymour. I expect more sacks and turnovers by these two units, which will give USC additional points and bigger wins. Bringing different stunts and mixing up the coverage should be seen this Saturday by the Trojans to confuse Matt Linehan as he threw two interceptions last week.
Keep The Freshman Ready
Coach Sarkisian played 13 freshmen against Arkansas State throughout the game and honestly I expect to see them even more. The Trojans freshman talent is unreal and we got to see that first hand when names like Iman Marshall, Cameron Smith, Osa Masina, and Ronald Jones II lit up week one's highlight reel. The freshmen accounted for three Trojan touchdowns and 30 tackles including Cameron Smith leading the way with seven. It will be no secret this week as these freshmen will take the field once again and show quality production on both sides of the ball. It is essential that these freshmen get the best out of this opportunity due to the need of depth and accountability on this Trojan team. I expect the freshmen running back trio to cause problems for the Vandals' defense, and the freshmen players on defense to continue to grow.
Overall the Trojans are loaded with talent and have players that can immediately tribute. As they clean up their mistakes they encountered in game one, expect them to build upon the good things they did as well. This Saturday versus Idaho is about productivity and remaining healthy, as we enter week three against a shaken up tree in the Stanford Cardinal.