After an impressive opening night 55-6 victory over Arkansas State, the Trojans will play the Idaho Vandals in the Coliseum this Saturday night. The Vandals are coming off a decidedly less impressive 45-28 loss to Ohio at home, but have some decent offensive firepower that could catch the USC defense off guard. Should the Trojans be on upset alert this week? Spoiler alert: No.
Last Meeting: 2007 - USC 38 Idaho 10 (8-0 All-Time Record against Idaho)
Previewing the Vandals
Idaho is coming off a terrible 2014 season in which they went 1-10. They, like the Trojans, were dealing with NCAA sanctions, only their punishment was due to failure to meet Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards from 2009-2012 and not for being awesome. They were banned from the post-season and lost four hours of practice per week, thus, their effort suffered accordingly. They opened this Thursday by getting beaten up by Ohio in a 45-28 loss at home. The Vandals fell behind Ohio 21-0 in the first quarter and never really got back in to the game. Their offense eventually did get going, but it was too little too late, and their defense was unable to stop the Bobcats all night.
The Vandals return their top passer (Matt Linehan, 58% comp/2,540 yards/11 TD in 2014) and their top rusher (Elijhaa Penny, 139 car/589 yards/ 12 TD in 2014) from last season and their best wide out (Dezmon Epps, 79 rec/980 yards/4 TD in 2013) was allowed back on the team after being dismissed last summer and missing all of 2014. The return of Epps is especially important because he looks to be the focal point of the offense in 2015. He was Linehan's favorite target against Ohio, hauling in 15 receptions for 163 yards while no other receiver had more than 3 catches. It's worth noting that junior tight end Deon Watson did have a line of 5 rec/48 yards/1 TD last week and is considered to be their most athletic playmaker outside of Epps. Linehan was a mixed-bag against Ohio, he completed 75% of his passes for 297 yards and 1 TD but also had 3 turnovers (2 INT, 1 fumble), an issue he's struggled with in his two seasons as the starter.
You don't get to a 1-10 record without being particularly awful at something, and for the Vandals that something awful was defense in 2014. They allowed 462.7 yards and 37.3 points per game last season and only allowed less than 34 points in a game once (New Mexico State: 17 - also their only win). They were especially bad against the run, allowing 245.9 yards per game on the ground to opponents, which bodes well for the Trojans given how well they ran the ball against the Red Wolves. In an attempt to shore up their defensive issues, Idaho dismissed defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee following 2014 and brought in Mike Leach's ex-DC Mike Breske (Breske was fired from Washington State after last season). Breske has switched the Vandals to a 3-4 scheme in hopes of getting more team speed on the field, but it remains to be seen if the change will yield better results in 2015 after giving up 489 total yards and 45 points last week to an Ohio team that only averaged 20.5 points in 2014.
Previewing the Trojans
The Trojans are fresh off of their most lopsided season-opening win since 2009 (San Jose State: 56-3). As most expected (but not myself to be honest), the Trojans dominated Arkansas State in every phase of the game, racking up 509 total yards and averaging 8.0 yards per play. The passing game was efficient (Kessler completed 73% of his throws) and at times explosive, but the running game was the real star of the show. Tre Madden led the way with 109 yards on only 12 carries (8.8 ypc) including a 65 yard touchdown run, while all three true freshmen running backs had impressive debuts. Ronald Jones looked especially sharp in his first game as a Trojan after rushing for 86 yards (61 of which came on his long TD run) on only 6 carries for a 14.3 (!) ypc average. That per carry average would currently lead the FBS, but he doesn't have the 10 carries necessary to qualify for the official statistic.
Good first team win, still a lot to improve on but a great start to the season! Thanks to all the... https://t.co/67rBTqmfQu
— Cody Kessler✝ (@CodyKessler6) September 6, 2015
Speaking of freshmen, the Trojan's highly touted 2015 recruiting class has made good on their hype so far. USC used 13 true freshman against Arkansas State and every single one made a contribution in some way. Cam Smith became the first freshman to start at ILB for USC in 37 years and had 7 total tackles and a pass breakup. Fellow freshmen Iman "Biggie" Marshall also had 6 total tackles and 2 pass breakups, while Osa Masina returned a fumble for a touchdown, and Porter Gustin might be the biggest 18-year old kid I've ever seen on a football field. To say the future is bright for the USC defense is a bit of an understatement.
But it wasn't all just the freshmen. Moving Chris Hawkins from corner to safety looks like a stroke of brilliance. He had the best night of any defensive player, tallying 5 total tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception. John Plattenburg, Hawkins' counterpart, also had a good game. As did walk-on backup safety Matt Lopes in clean up duty. Safety was one of the few positions of concern heading into 2015, but the unit looks like it has much better talent and depth than it did last year - something that could be said of the entire defense in general.
Woke up feeling blessed! First time in the Coli was everything I thought it would be! Love our Fans! #FightOn
— Kenny Bigelow (@_mcmxcv__) September 6, 2015
You won't find any "don't sleep on Idaho" material this week because Idaho is one of the worst teams in all of the FBS and no one is that crazy. The Trojans should dispatch their old Pacific Coast Conference foe with ease.
Conquest Chronicles will have all the information needed leading up to Saturday's game against Idaho as well as an in-game thread and a postgame article immediately following the conclusion of the game.
Beat the Vandals!