Preview: San Jose State at USC
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Los Angeles Coliseum
At quick glance, we may see the San Jose Spartans as a WAC program being served as a sacrificial offering to a Southern California program desperate to fill a hole in their scheduling. But take a closer look and you’ll find this opponent to have significance, and acts as a historical marker in the Trojans’ era of dominance.
USC and San Jose State last met on September 1, 2001. On that date, college football welcomed Pete Carroll to the coaching ranks. USC was victorious in the Coliseum that day, and Carroll collected the first of many wins to come. Back then, the direction of the program was unclear, and we were desperately trying to regain our balance. Eight year’s later, and the program stands tall, gathering two national championships and a pair of Heisman Trophies. Anticipation was coupled with uncertainty, when USC kicked off in 2001. But here in 2009, we have direction, goals, and swagger, as the quest for the crystal begins.
SAN JOSE STATE SPARTANS
The Spartans remain a work in progress. It wasn’t long ago that the athletic department toyed with the idea of eliminating the program completely, but they’re still here. They’ve posed little threat to the elite of their own conference, and should provide little to a Trojans team ranked 4th nationally.
The SJSU offense sputtered in 2008, averaging less than 19 points per outing, and showing no strength in running or passing the ball. They add Tom Malley from the Arena Football League to coordinate the ’09 unit, but how quickly they can make the transition to a wide open air attack remains to be seen. Senior quarterback Kyle Reed will lead the group, hoping to connect often with Kevin Jurovich. Lamon Muldrow looks to carry the load for the backfield, but all forward movement is dependent on an offensive line that ranked 104th nationally in 2008.
The 2008 Spartans weren’t a bad defensive bunch last season, but they’ve since lost their most gifted player, Jarron Gilbert, along with a pair of outstanding corners. In Gilbert’s departure to the NFL, he took 9.5 sacks and 22 tackles for losses with him. They will now look for Carl Ihenacho to apply pressure, with linebackers Justin Cole and Travis Jones providing support.
USC enters 2009 the same as they did a year ago. Matt Barkley receives the nod and becomes the third new quarterback to lead the Trojan offense in the last three years. The freshman will be protected by the best offensive line in the country, even with the absence of center Kris O’Dowd, who misses the opener with injury. Barkley also starts without a deep threat in the receiving corps. Speedster Ronald Johnson’s broken collar bone will keep him out at least 6 weeks, and his ability to stretch the field will be missed. But with the return of Damian Williams, and David Ausberry primed for a breakout season, the offense shouldn’t be slowed by anything the Spartans present defensively. Joe McKnight has been named the starting tailback, but it’s still very much a “running back by committee” offense. Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable will receive their equal share of the touches, with Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford also making significant contributions.
If there is any unit that will make or break the 2009 season, it will be the defense of the Trojans. Replacing 8 starters, which includes all starting linebackers, would be difficult for most programs. The talent of USC makes it an easier transition, but there is no replacement for experience. The Secondary is said to be the best in the nation, and is highlighted by All American safety Taylor Mays. And though it may appear to have taken a hit, with cornerback Shareece Wright being declared academically ineligible for the 2009 season, there was already more depth than positions to play, so don’t expect a drop off in coverage. Linebacker Chris Galippo finally has his opportunity to shine amongst a group of linebackers Carroll calls his fastest unit ever, and now more than ever, defensive end Everson Griffen is ready to become a household name.
Analysis: In the ancient battle between Spartans and Trojans, it was a gift horse that enabled the enemy to infiltrate the great walls and bring destruction and defeat to Troy. On Saturday, if San Jose State is to be victorious, they would need the same. USC has only lost 4 games in the Coliseum since they last met the Spartans in 2001, and only one of those losses were to an out of conference opponent. USC stands superior at every position, and without a weapon, an unknown X-factor, the odds of a Spartans victory are very slim.
All Time Series: USC leads 3-0
Streak: USC has won 3 straight
Last Meeting: September 1, 2001 (USC 21, SJSU 10)