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Spring Game preview

4/23/2011

We've been providing coverage here on the USC Report of each one of USC's 14 spring practices leading up to Saturday's Spring Game, and we'll have similar coverage during and after today's contest at the Coliseum. Before kickoff, though, here are five things to watch -- or listen for on 710-ESPN, if you're not in attendance:

1. Tackling

The Trojans will tackle Saturday, and they'll tackle hard.

Whether it'll be good is another question altogether. USC coach Lane Kiffin now freely admits that the Trojans should have tackled during each practice last season. They didn't last fall, and it showed often in games. A good -- albeit early -- indicator of this team's toughness will be the amount of broken tackles you see on the Coliseum grass.

2. Barkley and Woods, a top combo

The two players only have a combined three years of college experience, but they could easily be one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the nation come fall. Time and time again this spring, Matt Barkley has found Robert Woods for a smooth connection when the rest of his receivers were covered in team drills.

Expect to see more of that Saturday.

3. A struggling offensive line

No, the offensive line you see Saturday won't have much of any bearing on the offensive line you see in September, but it's important to take the offensive line's struggles into consideration when judging the rest of the offensive skill position players. Many of Barkley's struggles this spring have been as a direct result of a lack of protection provided by the line, and you can say the same for each of the Trojans' four running backs.

4. Big battles at strong safety

The position is almost undoubtedly USC's most open at any spot on the field, with four players possessing legitimate chances to start: Drew McAllister, Demetrius Wright, Jawanza Starling and Marshall Jones.

All have had their moments this spring, with McAllister's finally coming Thursday when he picked off Jesse Scroggins and took it back for a score. Wright, despite the least experience of the four, may be the early favorite, but Starling and Jones have the most starting experience. The player who shines here Saturday might start to really take a lead and distance himself from the others.

5. The Nos. 2 and 3 quarterback spots

Redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins took the lead for the backup signal-caller job behind Barkley toward the end of spring, but Kiffin never announced a leader for the third-string spot. If judging by snaps taken in practice, it looked like Cody Kessler took a late-spring edge over Max Wittek, but the Spring Game could be a telling factor for the two early enrollees.

At least one of them will almost assuredly redshirt.