Several new faces in starting lineup
Injuries have the Trojans shuffling at multiple positions heading into Colorado
LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans will take on the Colorado Buffaloes tonight with some new faces in the starting lineup, starting in the backfield, where junior tailback Curtis McNeal will make his first career start.
Senior Marc Tyler has been the starter for much of the season but has been banged up recently with a shoulder injury, and it is unclear if he will be able to play. Tyler will make the trip with the Trojans, but head coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday that McNeal will start the game no matter what.
McNeal is certainly deserving of the honor. He has put together three very solid performances in a row, including two second-half touchdown runs last week against Stanford which were a prime example of the "explosive" plays Kiffin said he was looking for from the run game.
On defense, Dion Bailey has yet to be cleared after suffering a concussion against Stanford. If he cannot go, true freshman Tre Madden will get the start at strongside linebacker. Bailey came out in the third overtime against the Cardinal, and Andrew Luck immediately went to work on Madden, completing the final touchdown and 2-point conversion against him. It's all part of the learning process for a young player, one which could continue for Madden this week.
Strong safety Jawanza Starling and defensive end Wes Horton also were limited in their practice participation this week. If they cannot start, Marshall Jones and Devon Kennard, respectively, will replace them in the starting lineup.
This game also could be a chance for plenty of younger players to get some game action if things go well for the Trojans. The Buffaloes (1-8 overall, 0-5 in Pac-12) are struggling this season, and it figures to be a game in which USC potentially could have a big lead in the second half, which would allow it to get experience for players who don't normally get on the field.
Some of the players who could get extended reps include running backs D.J. Morgan and Amir Carlisle, wide receivers Kyle Prater and De'Von Flournoy, offensive lineman Aundrey Walker, defensive linemen J.R. Tavai and George Uko, and linebacker Lamar Dawson.
All of those players will be counted on to play bigger roles for the Trojans in 2012, so it's nice to get them playing time whenever possible so they are acclimated to the speed of the game.
It also will be interesting to see if Kiffin decides to rest Matt Barkley at any point, and if he does, who replaces him. Cody Kessler was named the No. 2 quarterback at the start of the season, but that was when Jesse Scroggins was out with a thumb injury. Scroggins is back now, and both players will make the trip. Max Wittek is redshirting and will not be an option in this game.
Walker ready for more
True freshman offensive lineman Aundrey Walker has seen limited action thus far in the season, but the potential of a cold and possibly snowy environment could be pretty comfortable for the Ohio native.
"Being from Ohio, it really would be nothing new to me," Walker said of the weather. "We don't really talk about it much, we just get ready to play."
Walker has alternated positions on the right side of the line between both guard and tackle. At this point, he is considered the primary reserve at tackle to Kevin Graf.
"I'm just preparing myself any time to get in the game," Walker said. "I work hard in practice and am looking forward to the game on Friday."
It's hard to miss Walker on the field. He stands at 6-foot-6 and is listed at 370 pounds, although he has dropped weight during the season. His physical strength is an obvious plus, but as with any freshman on the offensive line, the transition to the college game in more mental than anything.
"It's more complicated than high school," Walker said. "I have to know a lot of different defenses and packages and coverages. In high school it wasn't like that -- any different color you see, just hit it. It's more complicated here, but it's cool. I just have to keep working, know my plays better, lose a little more weight and I'll be fine."
Last Boulder visit
The Trojans would love to duplicate the results from their last visit to Boulder in 2002, when they defeated the Buffs 40-3. It was the worst Colorado home loss in 20 years, as the home team converted only 1 of 14 third-down opportunities and ended the day with 61 total yards of offense.
Weather reports for Boulder tonight call for a chance of snow. The last time the Trojans played in a "snow" game was 1957 against Notre Dame, with the game-time temperature 20 degrees.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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