Skill Position Starters
Injured senior tailback Stafon Johnson had scored five touchdowns through the Trojans first four contests before a weightlifting accident ended his season.
- Quarterback – Freshman #7 Matt Barkley: The confident true freshman has already won road games at Ohio State and California. The Trojans are undefeated (4-0) in games Barkley has started/appeared. At 6'2" 230, pounds, Barkley has a college-ready frame but he's still learning to read collegiate coverage schemes, and it showed on an ill-advised late interception at California.
Barkely's shoulder bruise (suffered at Ohio State on September 12) appeared to still bother the freshman in the second half of the contest vs. the Bears (USC's last game). Like Irish QB Jimmy Clausen, the Bye week likely aided Barkley's recovery. Barkley, an early enrollee last January, was the first junior to be named the Gatorade national prep player of the year, and is 63-107 with three touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
- Running Back – Junior #4 Joe McKnight: The 6'0" 190-pound junior is a special athlete that could torment a thus-far poor lot of Irish open-field tacklers. McKnight excels in space and is averaging a robust 7.1 yards-per-carry on his 67 rushing attempts this season. has six rushing touchdowns and is a nightmare after the second missed tackle (the first missed tackle is nearly given). His change-of-pace and balance after acceleration is (by far) the best the Irish will encounter this season. The junior is a bit inconsistent in pass protection and has had limited success as a receiver this season with 11 receptions for 93 yards in five games.
A consensus first-team prep All American in 2006, McKnight is the key player the Irish must contain to pull off a home upset on Saturday. He'll likely be used on kick returns as well, though backup tailback C.J. Gable handles the bulk of those duties.
- Fullback – Junior #31 Stanley Havili: At 6'1" 230 pounds, Havili ranks as the Trojan's second-leading receiver with 13 receptions (14.5 per catch) through five games. Havili often lines up wide to run his routes but doubles in this role as a tremendous downfield blocker in space.
Havili, who had a 39-yard reception in last year's meeting between the teams, was a promising runner as a freshman fullback but broke his leg in 2006; recovered to average more than six yards-per-carry on 21 rushes in '07 (two touchdowns) and continued to evolve as a receiver, grabbing 58 passes for more than 570 yards and 8 scores over the last two seasons.
Though he doesn't individually rank as a major matchup problem, his presence as a rare skilled athlete at fullback only exacerbates the issues opposing defenses face against the talented Trojans.
- Flanker – Junior #18 Damian Williams: The transfer from Arkansas plays more physical than his 6'1" 195-pound frame suggests, but Williams greatest skill is his ability to damage defenses in the open field. Likewise, Williams is a pick-your-poison weapon once inside the 20-to-25-yard line because he's a natural fade-route threat yet excels running to the post as well.
Williams returns as the team's unquestioned go-to receiver and has totaled 24 receptions for 359 yards and a touchdown this season. He doubles as the Trojans punt returner, and returned a California punt 66 yards for a score in the Trojans' last contest on October 3.
- Split End – Junior #9 David Ausberry: The heavily recruited player has notched 32 receptions and 3 TD in two seasons after spending his freshman season as a member of the Trojans scout team where he was named USC's Service Team Offensive Player of the Year. At 6'4" 235 pounds, Ausberry is an imposing downfield blocker on the oft-used quick looks and bubble screens by the Trojans thus-far conservative offensive attack. Both are plays that have hurt the Irish secondary this season.
- Tight End – Senior #86 Anthony McCoy : Irish fans have had the pleasure to watch the best pass-catching tight end in the nation this year in sophomore Kyle Rudolph. Though not in Rudolph's class as a receiver, McCoy might be the nation's best overall tight end and should be the first player at the position selected in the 2010 NFLL draft. At 6'5" 250 pounds, the senior catches the ball well with his hands and has the speed to hurt the Irish when detached as a receiver from the slot.
McCoy is a tremendous blocker in space and as a motion tight end. He serves as almost an extra offensive tackle when lined up on the edge next to LT Charles Brown for USC's running game. Outside of McKnight, McCoy is the single Trojans player for which the Irish may have no preferable individual matchup.
USC's starting center (O'Dowd) and both starting guards (Byers and Parsons) are athletic and excel getting to the second level to spring Trojans ball carriers. The group has curiously struggled a bit in short-yardage situations this season. The USC O-Line is unique in that O'Dowd, its center, is easily the team's largest lineman with quickness flanking him on both sides.
- Left Tackle – Senior #71 Charles Brown: Exceptionally quick on the edge at 6'6" 285 pounds, Brown represents a matchup issue for speedy Irish pass rusher Kerry Neal. Brown is a strong run-blocker in space with quick feet to move in-line and find his assigned defender on the move.
- Left Guard – Senior #53 Jeff Byers: At 6'3" 290 pounds, Byers is a dominant run-blocker when left uncovered, easily handling inside linebackers at the second level. The 6th-year Senior routinely seeks and mauls opposing ‘backers in the Trojans scheme and was a force vs. Notre Dame in the teams' matchup last season.
Irish MLB Brian Smith's ability to contend with the established Byers will help determine Saturday's outcome.
- Center – Junior #61 Kristopher O'Dowd: The nation's best center, O'Dowd put forth a completely dominant effort vs. the Irish last season, especially near the goal line. The 6'5" 300-pound center suffered a dislocated knee cap in fall camp and might not play at 100 percent this season (unfortunately for the Irish defensive line, the Trojans Bye week likely aided his recovery).
O'Dowd is a tremendous one-on-one run blocker who will not likely need or receive help vs. Irish nose tackle Ian Williams. The junior center recovers well (due to great feet and balance) when initially beaten by opposing tackles. He has the ability to secure an initial block vs. an interior lineman and jump to the next level to seal an oncoming linebacker.
- Right Guard – Senior #56 Alex Parsons: Another Trojans interior blocker with extremely quick feet, Parsons is occasionally susceptible to a powerful bull rush in pass protection. At 6'4" 300 pounds, Parsons has played guard, center, and tackle for the Trojans after beginning his college career as a defensive tackle.
Parsons missed a short-yardage blocking assignment vs. California in the competitive 1st Quarter that stopped a USC 4th and short run.
- Right Tackle – Sophomore #70 Tyron Smith: Entered the season as the unknown but is now viewed as a potentially dominant tackle. At 6'6" 285 pounds, Smith has been lauded for his athletic ability in pass protection, and ranks as an unfortunate matchup for the quicker, but undersized Irish DE trio.
Smith won the right tackle job with a big Spring and has held up with the rest of his veteran line mates through five contests.
- Wide Receiver – Junior #8 Ronald Johnson: Should see his first action of the season after breaking his collarbone in fall camp. At 6'0" 190 pounds, Johnson is the Trojans top deep threat and kick returner. Johnson scored eight touchdowns on 33 receptions last season.
- Wide Receiver – Sophomore #19 Brice Butler: Redshirted as a freshman in 2008. The 6'3" 200-pound Butler is yet another Trojans player with NFL bloodlines (his father Bobby played for the Falcons in the 80s) after starring at FSU. Has emerged as of late with 3 receptions for 56 yards and a score in USC's last two contests (WSU and Cal).
- Tight End – Junior #40 Rhett Ellison: A physical, accomplished in-line blocker at 6'5" 255 pounds, Ellison can detach and serve as a lead blocker for WR Damian Williams on bubble screens. His father is for USC LB Riki Ellison who won two Super Bowl titles with the San Francisco 49ers.
- Tight End – Sophomore #88 Blake Ayles: A promising receiver that can get down the seam and catch the ball at its highest point. At 6'5" 245 pounds, Ayles is a competitive, willing, almost chippy blocker that can be shed by a more experienced defender. Through just two game tape viewings it was obvious that Ayles enjoys contact and hitting.
- Running Back – Senior #21 Allen Bradford: Has emerged as the Trojans short-yardage back with senior Stafon Johnson lost for the season. Bradford is a true north-south ‘back who runs with a physical style, looking for contact on every carry. At 5'11" 235 pounds, Bradford's a banger that represents a nice change-up option for the Trojans after offenses must first contend with the elusive McKnight.
- Running Back – Senior #2 C.J. Gable: The 6'0" 205-pounder emerged as a freshman vs. Notre Dame in 2006, finishing with 107 yards on 20 carries. He's since taken a back seat to a host of talented Trojans tailbacks though he did account for 8 touchdowns, 617 yards, and 5.8 yards per carry last season…all numbers that would have paced the Irish backfield in 2008.
- Running Back – Junior #26 Marc Tyler: Heavily recruited by the Irish out of high school in 2006, Tyler broke his leg and redshirted for his freshman (2007) season. At 6'0" 225 pounds, Tyler has worked his way into a backup role this season and has 72 yards and a touchdown on just 5 carries. His father is former UCLA, Rams, and 49ers Super Bowl winning RB Wendell Tyler.
- Offensive Tackle/Guard – Senior #76 Nick Howell: The 6'5" 290-pound versatile senior filled in capably for Alex Parsons when called upon in the Trojans last game at California. Howell started six games at right tackle last season.
- Offensive Tackle – Senior #68 Butch Lewis : Universally recruited defensive tackle switched to the offensive line after his first fall camp in 2006. At 6'5" 285 pounds, Lewis is yet another left side option for a staggeringly talented Trojans offensive front.
- Wide Receiver – Junior #17 Travon Patterson: At 5'10" 175 pounds, Patterson ranks among the fastest players on the team but has yet to make an impact as a wide receiver.
- Quarterback – Junior #15 Aaron Corp: 6'3" 200-pound signal-caller quarterbacked the Trojans to their only loss, a 16-13 defeat at Washington in Week Three. Corp is a more mobile threat that starter Matt Barkley.