Preview: Virginia at No. 16 USC
The Trojans and Cavaliers will complete a home-and-home series, with the venue changing to Los Angeles on Saturday for the final game. Both programs have taken on a new look since the 2008 clobbering of Virginia in the first meeting, and we’ll learn if those alterations have widened or closed the gap between the two programs.
Pete Carroll and Al Groh roamed the sidelines for that lopsided 52-7 contest. Both coaches have now departed, one making a willing exit, with the other being pushed outside the door. USC walked in as a national championship contender then, and used the victory over the Wahoos as a springboard to claim the top spot in the polls. Lane Kiffin’s Trojans can play only for pride, and defeating this rebuilding Virginia team won’t gain impression points from anyone.
Virginia Cavaliers (1-0)
National Rank: none
Last Week: Defeated Richmond 34-13
Mike London is now the captain of the Virginia ship and burdened with the task of lifting the program from the ground. Guiding his offense on the field is quarterback Marc Verica, who completed 68 percent of his passes in a 283 yard effort in the defeat of Richmond last week.
Verica was afforded the luxury of picking out targets, with the Spiders defense preoccupied with containing Keith Payne. The 255-pound tailback ran over and carried Richmond defenders on his way to a 114 yard day, which saw him average just over 7 yards per carry. This week’s opponent brings a more formidable defensive line, which should give London’s offense their first real test of the season.
Defensively, the Hoos have switched to the 4-3, scrapping the 3-4 look of the Groh coaching staff. They have downsized the linebacker unit for speed, going with converted safeties LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Walcott in two of the three spots. The defensive backs are experienced and talented, headed by 4-year corner Ras-I Dowling.
USC Trojans (1-0)
National Rank: 16 (AP)
Last Week: Defeated Hawaii 49-36
The Trojans enter this contest as they did the last, which is having the more talented roster. But exposed in Hawaii last week, is that talent playing out of position is a neutralizer that works in favor of the heavy underdog.
The USC defense took some hits in Honolulu, surrendering a whopping 588 yards to the Warriors. The good news is that they won’t face another run-and-shoot offense this week. Even better news came with the announcement of Nick Perry’s return. The defensive end rejoins the unit after sitting out the opener with an ankle sprain. Monte Kiffin has shuffled the line with the new addition, moving Armond Armstead inside and shifting Jurrell Casey to the nose.
T.J. Bryant (broken cheekbone) may also participate on Saturday. The Trojan secondary had its ego bruised in the opener and will need to make a statement this week to regain confidence.
Freshman Dillon Baxter returns to the Trojans offense this week, after sitting out his one game suspension. The offense was efficient against the warriors, with Matt Barkley connecting for 5 touchdown passes, and Marc Tyler having a tremendous day on the ground.
Analysis: Virginia presents a flip-flop of last week’s opponent. Hawaii was explosive on offense, but struggled defensively, as it was expected. The Virginia offense isn’t high powered, but the defense remains the staple of the program. In the end, USC will have too many weapons for the Wahoos to defend. And lacking a counterstrike offense, the Trojans can pull away early, forcing their opponent to abandon the ground attack in a game of catch-up.
X-Factor: The play on special teams will dictate the direction of the game. The Trojans’ unit played exceptional well last week, and a repeat of that performance will make the day miserable for a program continuously pinned in its own end.
Prediction: USC 42, Virgina 21
All Time Series: One previous meeting
Last Meeting: USC 57, Virginia 7 (Charlottesville, Va)
Fun Fact: USC is 7-4 all-time versus ACC opponents. The Trojans last hosted an Atlantic Coast program in 1997, when they fell 17-14 to Florida State in the L.A. Coliseum.