The Aggies and the Trojans had two very different starts. While Utah State rolled, crushing Weber State by almost 40 points, USC was manhandled by defending national champions Alabama. To get some insight into Saturday’s game, and what we might expect I talked to Nick Dempsey from Conquest Chronicles.
1.) In your opinion, who's USC's best player? Who do you expect to have a breakout game?
Right now it feels like do-it-all defensive back Adoree’ Jackson who plays defense, returns kicks, and spends some time at wide receiver is the best player on this USC team. Adoree’ was one of the few bright spots in the Alabama debacle and is a tremendous athlete.
There are quite a few players I can think of that should have a breakout game largely because almost no one on this team played up to their abilities. Juju Smith-Schuster is one of the best wide receivers in the country was double-teamed and totally shut down against Alabama. He was fired up and passionate in practice this week so I look to him to be the most likely to have a breakout game. If the offensive line cleans up the mistakes I can see both running backs having a tremendous game and even quarterback Max Browne to show dramatic improvement.
2.) Max Browne's confidence might be low going into Saturday's game. Do you expect him to bounce back with a big performance?
Statistically USC QB Max Browne had a dreadful game against Alabama. His state line was 14/29 for 101 yards 0 touchdowns and 1 interception. Watching the live telecast he looked awful as well. When you go back and look at the tape however, many of his 15 incompletions were the result of no one being open and Browne making the smart choice to throw the ball away.
The Crimson Tide were able to get insane amounts of pressure on Browne with just 4 guys up front and dropping 7 into coverage. On an absurd amount of plays Browne just did not have anyone open to throw to and not much time to throw it.
This leads me to believe that while his confidence may be shaky it might be shaky in his offensive line rather than himself. I expect that Browne is likely frustrated by the circumstances of the opening game. We’ll see though.
He also has Freshman Sam Darnold right behind him. Darnold and Browne were neck and neck in a QB competition all offseason so he may be looking over his shoulder a bit too, particularly if the offense does not bounce back against Utah State.
3.) How will USC Center Toa Lobendahn’s absence affect the defense against Utah State?
Lobendahn has been frequently injured. He missed the back half of last season because of a knee injury and we just found out he’ll be gone for the season with another knee injury. On the one hand it seems a bit disastrous given how out of sync and mistake-riddled the USC offensive line played in their opening week. It was a huge regression from anyhthing we saw from them last season. Replacing any of those starters with a new guy seems like it will just make it that much harder for all 5 to get it together and work as one.
The Trojans, however, are now well versed in swapping out centers. In 2015 the position was plagued with injuries. In fact they were down to the 4th string center last year after a string of injuries wreaked havoc on the first 3 centers.
The guy replacing Lobdendahn, Nico Falah has played a multiple positions on the line including center. Falah started at center in last year’s Pac-12 championship game and handled himself fairly well. The Trojans offensive line, however, has more problems than just hoping Falah can fill in adequately at center and the Utah State game will hopefully provide answers as to where this offensive line is at.
4.) What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
USC 34 - Utah State 21. This game will tell us quite a bit about USC. What lessons did the Trojans learn after getting blown out by Alabama? Will they use the loss to learn and improve? Or, will they implode? I expect USC to learn and improve.
The Trojans should come out angry and focused. The offensive line should really come out fired up after getting wrecked by Alabama. Expect a solid, tough, running game from the Trojans especially as Utah State replaces most of their defensive front seven.
For more USC football check out Conquest Chronicles.