Sunday, August 24, 2008

Preview: USC at Virginia

Quickie: This was a scheduling masterpiece. Then it quickly took on the appearance of a lopsided game, before injuries at USC morphed it back to an “anything can happen” affair.

Hoos: Al Groh was named the 2007 ACC coach of the year, winning ugly and recording a 9-4 season record. The secret to success was found in the trenches, an area that has now suffered losses. The pass rushing presence of Chris Long is gone, and suspensions, transfers, and academic failures have thinned a roster already in desperate need of replacements. Virginia’s defense allowed them to win 5 games by 2 points or less in 2007, and will desperately need to step up to have a chance in this one.

The offensive unit averaged 24.4 last season, but lacked any true playmakers. Academics have driven QB Jameel Sewell out of football for 2008, leaving behind a battle, with only Peter Lalich having any game time experience. Scott Deke and Mark Verika spent the fall competing for the starting job, and at the time of this publication, Groh has yet to declare a winner. The expectation will be for Lalich to open behind center, but he will have few weapons surrounding him. In terms of yardage, Virginia’s top receiver in 2007 was Tom Santi (418), who is no longer in the program. The leader in receptions was running back Mikell Simpson (43). Those numbers indicate that either the receivers weren't very good or the passing game was strictly conservative to a point of nonexistence.

Trojans: The third ranked Trojans make their first east coast swing since 2004, where they then defeated Virginia Tech 24-13 in the season opener. Pete Carroll appears confident that Mark Sanchez will be their starting quarterback, despite suffering the dislocation of his knee cap less than a month ago. Stafon Johnson is healthy and should receive the bulk of the backfield carries, with a banged up Joe McKnight limited. The receiving corps failed to shine in 2007, with USC also having an exited tight end, Fred Davis, leading the team in receptions. The Achilles heal of this reloaded squad will be along the offense line, where they have just one returning starter. The team made local headlines last week, when the first-team offense managed to score just once in eleven series of scrimmage, but it should be noted that this wasn’t the result of the inexperienced Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain filling in for Sanchez, but caused by the offensive line simply moving in the “wrong direction” on several plays.

Defense will again anchor the Trojans, as it did in 2007. After losing 3 players from the front seven in the first round of the NFL draft, Carroll claims this defensive unit is even better. LB Rey Maualuga leads the charge, but injuries have thinned the position behind him. Fili Moala now receives the opportunity to build on the legacy of Trojan defensive tackles, filling the duties of the departed Sedrick Ellis. Also look for Averell Spicer, Christian Tupou, and Everson Griffen to have an impact. The Trojans are also boasting what many consider to be the best secondary in the nation, highlighted by Junior Safety Taylor Mays.

Xtra Points: Pete Carroll hasn’t lost to an out of conference regular season opponent in nearly 6 years (Kansas State, Sep. ’02). Even with a new starting quarterback and the sudden brush with injury, the defense alone can earn this victory. But as mentioned before, the inexperience along the offensive front could make it interesting. Just think back to the patchwork offensive line that played against Stanford in 2007.

All Time Series: No prior meetings
Streak: N/A

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