If Pete Carroll was looking for an early test to find out just where his Trojan football team is then he will find out a lot this weekend against Kansas State. The Wildcats come into the Coliseum as a program that has made great strides in recent years but if there is a time to get them it is now because they lost a lot to graduation and are not set at the quarterback spot. They have often been criticized for not playing a tough non conference schedule and they are looking to this game with the Trojans to send a message to the rest of the country and what could be more perfect than to send the message of our own with a nice victory.
We know that Kansas State will come out and try to run the football and this is where the defense of the Trojans will need to step up, primarily at the linebacker spot as KSU has tremendous speed and run a very disciplined offensive scheme. The concern for the Trojans right now is the health of Frank Strong who has very quickly made himself a key component in the defense. At this point even if he is cleared to play he will not be 100 percent for the game and unless there is a major change in his status we will need to see John Cousins step up in his absence. Matt Grootegoed will switch from strongside to weakside backer to fill in for Strong while Cousins will get his first start after seeing only special teams action against San Jose State. The new linebacker rotation worked so well against the Spartans as the gambles by Pete Carroll paid off with amazing speed at linebacker but another key will be the need to put pressure on the passer. Ell Roberson will get the start and he is a good athlete who the Trojans will need to rattle when he does go back to pass. The failure to get a sack against San Jose State bothered Carroll and you can be sure he will look to change that on Saturday against a relatively inexperienced Wildcat offensive line.
The Wildcats excel on special teams as they devote six coaches to the individual areas and it shows as they are annually among the best in the nation each year. Aaron Lockett is the latest in a long line of tremendous return men and it is critical that Mike MacGillivray improve on his performance from last week and kick like we saw him do throughout spring ball and fall camp.
The Trojans were able to beat San Jose State without revealing too much of the offensive playbook and still it was more variety in the play calling than we have seen in years. Kansas State plays hard nosed defense and they can run so Norm Chow will probably rely a little more on the arm of Carson Palmer in this game but if USC fans liked what they saw in the opener then just sit back and enjoy because it will be a treat to watch what Chow does with our talent. Sultan McCullough should continue to get plenty of opportunities and Kareem Kelly will likely be more active as we look to stretch the field more and show off our weapons.
With the gains we saw against San Jose State it will not take a victory in this game to see progress but it would be a great way to build some serious momentum as we head into conference play with a tough game against the Ducks. The players immediately saw the impact this new staff can have on a game with the play calling by Chow and the defensive adjustments by Carroll and it gives the players all the confidence in the world when they see that happen. The Gatorade bath the players gave Carroll at the end of the Spartan game spoke volumes about the state of the Trojan program right now and a solid game this weekend goes a long way toward keeping that momentum.