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SJSU week 0 vs. #6 USC: Key things to expect & to look for

Predicting a good nightmare

Week zero 2023: SJS QB Chevan Cordeiro / USC QB Caleb Williams
Stan Szeto / Jerome Miron

Date/Time: Saturday, August 26, 2023, 5:00 PM kickoff

Location: LA Memorial Coliseum

Broadcast: Pac-12 Network, Fubo TV

Radio: 860 AM KTRB

Head-to-Head: Historically, the Spartans are 0-5 vs. USC. The most recent face-off two years ago in the coliseum yielded a 30-7 loss.

Week zero is finally upon us and all football eyes are on this theological matchup of Trojans vs. Spartans. Certainly, the world wants David to beat Goliath in the battle of have and have-nots.

But the experts and pundits are likely correct in the 30+ point spread favoring USC, though the 66+ total points scored prediction offers a glimmer of hope for San Jose State that we’ll expound on in a minute.

The biggest story line, of course, is Heisman Trophy winner and likely top 2024 NFL pick, Caleb Williams, who led USC to an 11-3 record in 2022. The best player in college football expects to lead an outstanding offense to the CFP with the many weapons under USC head coach Lincoln Riley.

Last year, the 6’1,’ 215 lb. Williams’ broke USC records with 4,919 total combined yards (4,537 passing) and 42 touchdowns earning him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and AP Player of the Year, deservedly so.

Bay Area fans will also note a famous son will be among a slew of receivers at Williams’ command. 6’3,” 210 lb. Brenden Rice is USC’s top wideout and of 49er legendary lineage Jerry Rice.

The next big story line is a toss up

If star Spartan QB Chevan Cordeiro can top a supposed questionable USC defense, Cordeiro is the next big story line.

If not, USC fans can start to tell if their defense will allow them to reach new heights. In short, with a USC offense that delivered 40+ points per game last year, their defense was suspect. Just eight months ago at the Cotton Bowl, a “G5 upset a P5,” where the Tulane Green Wave shocked the bad-tackling Trojans 46-45.

With USC losing two first-teamers to the NFL, their defensive expectations rely on experience, transfers and senior leadership to fill in production this year. Also, add in a heavy microscope on Trojan defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.

Questionable defenses have followed Riley’s teams since Oklahoma.

Grinch’s scheme is certain to eye 6’1” 196 lb. Cordeiro from causing damage. Cordeiro’s body of work last season: 3,251 yards, 23 touchdowns and 483 rushing yards has earned its own level of accolades. An elusive runner with outstanding feet leaves a defense with that split second thought process that buys an offense time and second chances, just like Williams.

Cordeiro’s no stranger to high-level competition and will be unfazed by the Trojan lore that precedes him and the Spartans. Cordeiro has a sturdy reputation that is well-known enough that USC will see as its Achilles’ heel.

SJSU, under seventh-year head coach Brent Brennan, also has nothing to lose and everything to gain, where Brennan believes this squad has what it takes to make things competitive.

And if things are within striking distance after half-time, the pressure will build on Grinch and USC. Tulane flashbacks could creep in.

Still, at the least, a good competitive loss like Auburn last year is a worthy goal in the bigger picture, as Brennan surely has the bigger season picture in mind as well.

Where the unpredictability lies

This is where plots thicken or never materializes. If it’s the latter, USC clobbers SJSU and it’s what the majority expected anyways and the Spartans move on down the gauntlet to Oregon State.

Besides a big payday, San Jose wants to leave a big impression and be able to sustain it. Emotions and energy should start things out strong, but things usually fall apart quickly against bigger and better athletes. It’s one sign to keep an eye on.

It’s also a given that Williams will shine.

So where/how can the Spartans dull that shine?

SJSU has a dynamic, active secondary led by a powerful Tre Jenkins and Chase Williams at the safety spots. They lead a bevy of fast and quick DBs. If they can all play with “big eyes” and heavy discipline, it might be enough to slow down or limit the full potential of the Trojan passing attack. And limit meaning, USC only has one 100-yard receiver or preferably, all are under 100-yards receiving. That would be a huge accomplishment beyond compare.

The rest of the defense will also be tested all four quarters. Assignments, containment and discipline with controlled, aggressive, sustained chaos is the only big enough description to completely describe what the Spartan defense needs to do and be, so to have a chance.

The rest falls onto Cordeiro and...

The X-factor?

The odds put San Jose State at less than four percent odds to win. The end?

Looking at Spartans Kairee Robinson and Quali Conley at running back on tape for USC might summon more flashbacks of Tulane’s backs running for over 300 yards. Robinson and Conley are shifty, strong backs. The type that USC could not reliably tackle just a few months ago. Couple that with some Cordeiro RPOs could keep the Spartans on the field long enough to keep Williams off the field. That’s another obvious key to the game that OC Kevin McGiven will certainly keep in mind, besides keeping Cordeiro mobile enough and protected enough ahead of last year’s mind-numbing 42 sacks.

There’s also no doubt Grinch will take and steal everything his defense can to show how well they’ve done for themselves in the off-season - or not. USC will definitely not want any holiday-type celebrations in the coliseum in week zero.

Even a close call for USC could be near disastrous. No doubts about Riley leading brilliant offenses, but his defensive teams can make a four percent chance to a fighting Spartan team be a 40 percent chance through the thick and thin of it.

Considering the total 66.5 point spread means there’s some possible high scoring potential for the Spartans - yes, perhaps a less than four percent chance.

That slight chance is buoyed by not giving up turnovers. The Spartans were third in the nation and the Trojans were number one in the nation holding on to the ball. If Cordeiro can dish and run and run and dish to formidable receivers like Justin Lockhart, Nick Nash and Charles Ross on a consistent basis, San Jose State can quite possibly be a nightmare.

A prediction(s)

The mind says 45-17 Trojans. The heart: 35-31 State.

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