Preview: Hawaii at USC
Hawaii football receives a complete overhaul in 2012, and it begins with an old face as its new head coach. Norm Chow replaces Greg McMackin, who managed just one winning season in his four years leading the program. It’s a homecoming for Chow, who was born in Honolulu and attended Punahou High School. He received his first head coaching job from Waialua High, where he served from 1970-1972.
Chow returns to the island 43 years later and is burdened with the task of transitioning the Warriors from the WAC to the Mountain West Conference. Restoring respectability is among the items on the new agenda, as he enters with a –“to be the best, you must play the best” –coaching theory. His Warriors will waste no time in testing that theory, as they draw the AP’s top-ranked team in the season opener.
Lane Kiffin is in the third year of his restoration project, after taking over the shamed and sanctioned Trojans in 2010. The new calendar year opens the door for his once restricted program, with USC now eligible for postseason play, after serving its NCAA mandated 2-year ban.
The Trojans couldn’t be unleashed at a better time. They enter the new season as the Pac 12 favorite and legitimate National Championship contenders. Their roster includes a Heisman Trophy candidate, two receivers on the Biletnikoff watch-list, a safety and cornerback in pursuit of the Thorpe Award, and a linebacker hoping to etch his name on a Butkus trophy.
It’s a coaching game of teacher versus student, with Chow’s former pupil holding a definite edge. Chow returns to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with his third team since removing himself from the Trojan staff in 2004, but appears for the first time as a head coach.
Hawaii Warriors (0-0)
National Rank: none
Last Season: 6-7
Norm Chow has spent a career grooming quarterbacks, and has chosen Sean Schroeder as his project in 2012. The Duke transfer will begin the season under center, as the program moves from the run-and-shoot to a pro-style offense.
The strength of the unit is found in sophomore fullback Joey Iosefa and running back Sterling Jackson, though the 2011 numbers wouldn’t indicate as much. The Warriors rushing attack finished with a rank of 113th in the nation a year ago.
In a game where victory can only be achieved by controlling the tempo against the quick-strike Trojans, Hawaii’s success or failure will be highly dependent on the production from its backfield. Adding to adversity, the Warriors will present an inexperienced front, with as many as three freshmen on the offensive line.
The Hawaii defensive line also took a hit during the offseason, losing three starters from last year’s unit. But unlike the offensive line, the defensive trench will plug-in more experience. Seniors Geordon Hanohano and Haku Correa will fill the vacant middle, while team captain Paipai Falemalu returns to his position at the end. The Warriors return just one starting linebacker from a defense that ranked 66th overall in 2011. TJ Taimatuia and George Daily-Lyles are inserted to support the experienced Art Laurel, who led the team in sacks (9) and tackles for loss (14.5).
Hawaii led the WAC in sacks a year ago (2.69 per game), which was 15th best in the nation. The pass rush was the team’s lone defensive bright spot, and figures to be the same as we enter the new campaign.
USC Trojans (0-0)
National rank: 1 (AP), 3 (Coaches’)
Last Season: 10-2
The Trojans are led by Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Barkley, who is looking to establish new school records as the season marches forward. The senior was the nation’s eighth-most efficient passer in 2011, throwing for 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. His supporting cast includes 2011 All-American WR Robert Woods and Freshman All-American Marqise Lee. The trio solidified itself as an unstoppable force, with only an NCAA stiff-arm preventing last season’s advancement towards a conference championship and more.
An offensive line that began 2011 as a question mark now emerges in 2012 as one of the best in the country. Anchored by senior center Khaled Holmes (Rimington watch-list), the Trojans have the muscle to pave paths for runners and size to protect their quarterback from all angles.
A beneficiary of the much improved offensive line is senior RB Curtis McNeal, whose production increased in 2011 as the line continued to gel. McNeal is now joined in the backfield by Penn State transfer Silas Redd, giving USC two one-thousand yard rushers from a year ago.
One of the program’s deepest positions is often overshadowed by bigger name stars. USC fields two of the nation’s top tight ends in Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble, and expectations are high for FB Soma Vainuku. The three provide more options for a quarterback on the verge of becoming the most prolific passer in conference history.
The Trojan defense is often lost in the shuffle of the more alluring offensive figures, but is formidable just the same. Safety T.J. McDonald (Thorpe watch-list) opted to return to school for his senior year, bolstering a defensive backfield that consists of junior cornerback Nickell Robey (Thorpe watch-list) and senior safety Jawanza Starling. Anthony Brown returns as a starting cornerback, after breaking his ankle in the sixth game of 2011.
The USC linebackers are young, talented, and go without change from the end of last season. Sophomores Dion Bailey (Butkus watch-list), Hayes Pullard, and Lamar Dawson will return as starters, and will be relieved by freshmen Scott Starr and Anthony Sarao. The biggest question mark comes on the defensive line, where the unit lost ends Nick Perry to the NFL and senior Devon Kennard to injury.
Both ends have been replaced with senior Wes Horton and sophomore J.R. Tavai, but we should expect a rotation that would include Kevin Greene and Morgan Breslin, as the staff still feels for standout pass rushers to solidify starting status. George Uko and freshman Antwuan Woods will man the center of the new-look defensive line.
Analysis: The season opener pits two programs moving in opposite directions, and the majority of the focus should be on the interior. In the trenches you find weakness versus weakness, as an inexperienced Warriors offensive line clashes with a newly patched Trojans defensive front. Expect USC to test Hawaii’s freshmen early and often, as it looks to establish itself as the more dominant force. A new quarterback and system for the Warriors also makes for a limited playbook. Rushing attempts may far exceed the number of passes in the final box score.
X-Factor: Bookends- No one is expecting Hawaii to win this contest or even stay in the game. It’s mostly because the team lacks the firepower to keep pace, but the play of its defensive ends can minimize the damage. Barkley will play the opener without All-American left tackle Matt Kalil, the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft. Though his replacement (Aundrey Walker) is massive in size, he’s thin in experience. If the Warriors can take advantage of the inexperience of Trojan tackles, they can reduce the seconds on Barkley’s clock, thereby lessening opponent opportunities to connect on deep passing routes. The longer it takes USC to score is the longer Hawaii can remain in the game.
All-Time Series: USC leads 7-0
Streak: USC has won 7 straight
Last Meeting: USC 49, Hawaii 36 (Honolulu 2010)
- USC has been victorious in each game versus Hawaii, winning by average margin of 34 points
- Since his USC departure in 2004, Norm Chow is 0-3 in return games to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
- Though he built a reputation as an offensive genius, offensive production declined in each of Chow’s recent coaching stops (UCLA, Utah).
- Southern California’s last loss in a season opener occurred on September 6, 1997— to Florida State.
- USC has won 10 consecutive games versus WAC opponents.
- USC’s last loss to a Mountain West opponent came against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl
- USC has scored 50+ points in 4 of the 7 games played against Hawaii.