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Keys to the Game: USC vs Fresno State

We share some keys to the Trojans season opener against the defending Mountain West Champs in Fresno State.

Fresno State v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

USC is all set to face another team other than themselves. The focus now turn towards preparing for the defending Mountain West champions in the Fresno State Bulldogs. We dive into Saturday’s game and share some keys to a USC victory over the Bulldogs.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 24 Notre Dame at USC Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Open up the Run Game

We’ve heard a lot about the Trojans air attack through fall camp and for great reasons. Graham Harrell is known for his air raid offense and USC currently has one of the best receiving talent in the nation, but what about the ground game? USC has a talented backfield in Vavae Malepeai, Stephen Carr, and Markese Stepp. It’ll be crazy not to see them utilized in anyway type of way in this offense. In order for USC to have an effective offense, they must get the run game going. The offensive line will have a job to open up holes for the running backs. They’ll look to showcase it against a Fresno State run defense that only given up 132 yards on the ground per game last season and returning 4 of their 5 starters on their front seven.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 15 Las Vegas Bowl - Fresno State v Arizona State Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Contain the running game

While it’s important for USC to get their running game going, it’s just as important to slow down the running attack of Fresno State. Bulldogs running back Ronnie Rivers was the team leader in rushing yards, despite splitting carries with Jordan Mims. Against Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl Rivers had an outstanding performance, rushing for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Coming into this game Rivers will be the feature back and getting a bulk of the carries with Mims out for the season. USC on the other hand was less than stellar defending the run in 2018. The Trojans ranked at the bottom half of the Pac-12 giving up 162 yards per game on the ground. The defensive line has show huge signs of improvement during fall camp, however it’ll be put to the test against an elusive running back that will run behind new starters on the offensive line.

USC Fall Showcase Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Start on time and finish the job

The last two seasons USC has struggled in the first half to teams that they were clearly better than talent wise. They were tied going into the half against Western Michigan in 2017 and let UNLV hang with them for a full half. While first game struggles do indeed happen, upsets are also made when a team believes that they can hang with the favorite. Fresno State will be replacing a large amount of talent on both sides of the ball, USC must take advantage of that and flex their muscles early on. Don’t underestimate the Bulldogs as they did win 12 games last season. They also must avoid last year’s habit of taking a two score lead and letting up. If USC can show up early and avoid the let downs then it should be a smooth game moving forward, But with #Pac12AfterDark you never know.

USC Fall Showcase Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Discipline is everything

USC and discipline has not gone hand in hand, especially last season. The Trojans were the most penalized teams in the Pac-12 last season, committing a horrific 96 penalties for 883 yards and averaging 8 penalties a game. Head coach Clay Helton has made it a point during the offseason to really focus on the team’s discipline to limit mistakes that hurt them the previous season. If USC can get off on the right foot and limit their penalties to extend/kill drives then that will be a huge plus for them.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 29 USC at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Disrupt the Fresno State Backfield

The task is plain and simple for the USC defense. With Fresno State breaking in new starters on the defensive line and a new quarterback, The Trojans pass defense should be licking their chops. Senior quarterback Jorge Reyna is expected to be tabbed as the Bulldogs starting quarterback. He’s only attempted 12 passes and completed 8 for 111 yards and a touchdown pass in 4 games played. Life is different as a starter and he’ll be taking snaps against an offensive line that only returns one starter in right tackle Syrus Tuitele. USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has simplified his defensive play book to help get the most out of his players. The pass rush struggled to find their way after last season after senior linebacker Porter Gustin went down for the season. Defensive end Christian Rector moves to a true edge rushing role to get more production out of him. He will be joined by true freshman Drake Jackson who has also received a lot of praise from coaches during the spring and fall. Look for Pendergast to dail up more pressure against Fresno State. If USC can be successful in disrupting the offensive rhythm of Fresno State by pressuring Reyna then Jeff Tedford’s ball club could be in for a long night at the Coliseum.