The Trojans will be on the national stage this weekend in Dallas when they take on the nation's top ranked team, the Crimson Tide of Alabama. These are the five matchups to look for Saturday night. These individual battles will have a direct correlation with the outcome of the game.
Adoree Jackson vs. Calvin Ridley
These are simply two of the best athletes in the country. The laurels of Adoree Jackson are well known to USC fans. Not only is he one of college football's most exciting players, but he is one of the nation's premier long jumpers in Track and Field. A true threat in all three aspects of the game, he will need to make his presence especially felt on the defensive side of the ball.
Matching up against Calvin Ridley of Alabama is no small task. Ridley exploded onto the scene last year breaking the school's freshman receiving record for yards accumulating 1,045 last season on 89 catches. Along with that he had seven touchdowns, five of which were plays of 30 yards or more. Ridley's speed and elusiveness make him the ultimate deep threat. Adoree Jackson will have to be intensely focused at his corner spot in order to keep the ball out of Ridley's hands and prevent him from making game changing plays.
Juju Smith-Schuster vs. Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick
The Trojan's premier receiver will have a great test in the first week. At 6-2 220, Smith-Schuster usually has the luxury of having a size advantage over opposing cornerbacks. He will not be granted such a luxury against the Crimson Tide. Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick both stand 6-1 and fill out their frames well. Physically, this should be the toughest matchup Smith-Schuster will see all year. Even if the Trojans try to create matchup problems with Smith-Schuster by lining him up inside, he will most likely see Fitzpatrick lined up across from him. Humphrey will control the left side, and Fitzpatrick will be used both on the outside and in the slot. Although both corners are physically imposing and usually play their positions with great technique, they did show some vulnerability getting beat deep last season. Smith-Schuster happens to be one of the county's biggest deep threats. If Smith-Schuster is able to get open down the field early for a big play that will certainly help swing momentum in the Trojan's direction and could be one of the keys to an upset victory.
Cameron Smith vs. Bo Scarbrough
Alabama has been known for their dominant run game during the Nick Saban era, and every year they seem to replace their All American running back with another bruising powerful replacement. This year seems to be no different. This year Derrick Henry's replacement is Bo Scarbrough. The 6-2, 230 pound sophomore showed his ability to bounce off defenders in flashes last season toward the end of games. Alabama's ability to wear teams down with the pounding run game really takes its course on teams and makes it difficult to stop their offense from scoring points late in games. Cam Smith emerged as one of the Trojan's biggest playmakers last season from the inside linebacker position. USC will need him to shoot gaps and control the line of scrimmage against the Tide especially on 1st and 2nd down. Holding the run game to no gains on early downs creates 3rd and longs which are more difficult to convert and creates an advantage for the USC defense. Look for Smith to create plays and generate momentum.
USC Offensive Line vs. Alabama Defensive Line
This could possibly be the premier matchup of the night. USC's veteran offensive line will certainly have their hands full against the defensive line of Alabama. The Trojans are going to need to be able to move the Tide's defensive line to create run gaps for Justin Davis and Ronald Jones. If the run game becomes ineffective then the rest of the offense will suffer. Tee Martin relies on the play action pass to create big plays, and if the run is ineffective then so too is the play action pass game. The Trojans will have an inexperienced starter in Max Browne leading the offense so protecting him will be a must. If the pass rush of the Tide begins to take control of the game then it is possible that Browne becomes flustered and makes mistakes. Notable names on USC's line include Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler, and Toa Lobendahn. Alabama's big names include Tim Williams, Da'Shawn Hand, and Johnathan Allen.
Alabama OC Lane Kiffin vs. USC DC Clancy Pendergast
Clancy Pendergast was Lane Kiffin's defensive coordinator in his last year as head coach of the Trojans in 2013. Kiffin and Pendergast will certainly know each other well. For two coaches that know each other's systems and tendencies it will be a very interesting cat and mouse game between the USC defense and Alabama's offense. Being the competitor that he is, Kiffin will certainly want to beat his former team. Even with an inexperienced quarterback, it will be no surprise to see Kiffin take deep shots downfield to Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart. Look for Pendergast to come into the game with some exotic defensive fronts, blitzes, and coverages to throw Kiffin off his game and force him to make in game adjustments. Both Alabama and USC will have inexperienced starting quarterbacks, and whichever defense is able to fluster the opposing quarterback the most should be in for a big day.
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