Friday, September 30, 2011
5 things to watch: Arizona-USC
By Pedro Moura
1. Foles to Criner: Arizona's biggest strength is the connection between its quarterback, senior Nick Foles, and his No. 1 receiver, senior Juron Criner. Criner has posted consecutive solid games against the Trojans the past two years, and all indications are he'll be able to get to 100 yards receiving fairly easily against a USC defense that has nobody who can single-cover him. Nickell Robey, the Trojans' No. 1 corner, is eight inches shorter than Criner and routinely gets beat in the red zone by significantly bigger receivers. This may be a case -- as it often is at the college level with dominant players -- of allowing Criner to get his yards but stopping the rest of the team's targets as much as possible.
2. Getting the run game going: It's not USC's biggest strength overall, but it might be in this game. Running back Marc Tyler stands to carry the ball a good 25 0r so times against the Wildcats and needs to make good use of those opportunities, beating up the Arizona defense like other top backs have over the past three weeks. It's the biggest key to a Trojan win because it's a proven method of success, and you can be sure Lane Kiffin will utilize it frequently. If Tyler's not getting the job done, this game makes a lot of sense as an opportunity for backup backs to get significant chances.
3. Playing physically. T.J. McDonald got two penalties for doing this against the Sun Devils, but it's about doing it with the right mindset, and if done right, it can can lead to all kinds of good things for the Trojans. In general, their tackling was subpar against ASU, an attribute that can largely be attributed to a lack of physicality from the entire defense. Take Jawanza Starling's spectacular whiff on Cameron Marshall's 70-yard scoring run on the first drive of that game. If Starling had been committed to getting involved on the play and forcing Marshall out of bounds with his body, the touchdown wouldn't have happened.
4. Turnovers? Turnovers. Three defensive turnovers in four games is not up to USC's standard, and that's been the No. 1 topic of conversation this week in practice. Kiffin is utterly befuddled at it; the players are just disappointed. Here's the thing: Foles doesn't have an interception so far this year, so it's not supremely likely that one of those will happen Saturday, considering the Trojans have only one all season. But forcing fumbles are paramount to this team's success going forward, and if they do end up playing physically, at least a fumble or two should be a per-game standard starting Saturday.
5. A true breakout game for Lee? Kiffin said this week that his freshman wideout, Marqise Lee, is on pace to become the next big receiver at USC in the mold of guys like Mike Williams and Keyshawn Johnson. (Success-wise, not physically. Lee's under 6-foot). If he's going to live up to those ultra-high expectations, he needs to fully break out sometime soon, as his high school teammate, Robert Woods, did last year around this time. Lee's made solid progress this year but has yet to have a true gigantic performance, with no more than four catches or 63 yards in a given game. A weak Wildcat secondary provides a good opportunity for that breakout game to happen.