WeAreSC staffers offer up three things USC fans should look for during the spring game on Saturday at the Coliseum.
1. Depending on the format, here’s hoping the fans are able to get a good look at the up-tempo offense in action. There has been a lot of work on installing the plays but few chances for the players to put those plans into scrimmage-type action so you know they would love to show off the system for the fans.
2. The sheer size of the interior of the defensive line. It’s not often that the Trojans are this big and deep in the middle, although they will be without Leonard Williams on Saturday, who has been sitting out this spring while rehabbing a shoulder injury. There is still plenty of bulk in action, however, led by Antwaun Woods, Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons, with Kenny Bigelow and Greg Townsend Jr. playing key depth roles.
3. Some players the fans may not have seen before who are now running with the first unit. Be prepared for an offensive line that features Zach Banner, Khaliel Rodgers and true freshman Toa Lobendahn in the starting lineup. Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin have been waiting their turn and it looks like the time has come. In the secondary, keep an eye on Chris Hawkins and Gerald Bowman, both have performed well this spring.
1. A strong showing from the USC defensive front. The performance of the USC defensive front has been one of the real highlights of the spring so far, and I’d expect that trend to continue on Saturday in a live setting. Even with Williams standing on the sideline, the Trojans possess an extremely formidable group on the interior with guys like Woods, Simmons, Pelon, Bigelow and Townsend in the fold. On the outside, the development of Starr and Ruffin, in particular, has been exciting to watch. Both players are fast and physical, and you can be sure that they’ll each be looking to deliver some big hits. Expect a standout day from this entire group up at the line of scrimmage.
2. Highlight plays from Nelson Agholor. It seems like a day hasn’t been able to go by this spring without Agholor coming up with at least one highlight play that has caught everyone’s attention. Coming off a season in which he made 56 receptions, he’s performed with a greater level of consistency this spring, showcasing game-breaking speed and sure hands on a daily basis. He’s waited his turn behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, and with what he’s shown, he just might have what it takes to make his mark as the next great USC wide receiver.
3. Cody Kessler. To no surprise, Kessler was declared the starter -- at least for now -- at quarterback on Tuesday, and he responded by putting together his best outing of the spring. Now it will be interesting to see if he can keep that level of play up. A fierce competitor and undisputed leader of the team, he’s appeared poised and comfortable while directing USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s new up-tempo offense throughout a majority of the spring, and now that he has that added boost of confidence, maybe this is when he’s able to really take a giant step forward in terms of his development.
1. Aside from the fascination of the new up-tempo, no-huddle offense, fans should scrutinize the rebuilt offense line because there are a number of interesting storylines. Junior Max Tuerk will make his debut before a live audience and will be executing those critical shotgun snaps to his quarterback and roommate Kessler. Then there is sophomore starting right tackle Banner, who has begun to dominate in late spring since his hip surgery. Finally, there are the two rookie offensive guards in true freshman Lobendahn and redshirt freshman Rodgers. Both these guys will be in the mix to start when training camp begins in early August and both bring a highly competitive spirit to their craft.
2. OK, if you thought the offensive line was interesting, the defensive line provides some new wrinkles in formation, philosophy and talent. With Williams limited due to his recovery from shoulder surgery, Simmons is getting his audition and he has the makings of a dominant performer. Another D-linemen is JC transfer Pelon, who has really come on recently. A tremendous talent, Pelon (6-foot-5 and 295 pounds), like Simmons (6-6, 300 pounds), is huge, and they both have some get-up-and-go. Lastly, focus on junior nose tackle Woods and redshirt freshman Bigelow, who is pushing Woods. Their nose tackle battles with center Tuerk should be quite entertaining on Saturday.
3. For those that love competition battles, take some time and focus your binoculars on outside sophomore linebackers Quinton Powell and Ruffin. Each brings a different style of game and their competition for the starting spot has, at times, been spectacular. Powell is cat-quick with a great skill set while Ruffin is very physical and a real athletic presence. Fans can make their own judgments regarding how they see both players fitting into the grand scheme of things for 2014.