Lawrence Jackson won't be going against Jake Long one-on-one for 60 minutes, but they are certain to butt heads on more than one occasion Monday afternoon. It will be important for Jackson to win this battle more often than not. When the Trojans met the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl three years ago, the USC defensive line was downright dominant. Three seasons later, the Trojans sport an entirely different group of starters, but they will need the same kind of production. Jackson doesn't need a ten tackle, three sack kind of day (though I wouldn't turn that down), but he does need to make his presence felt and make Michigan gameplan specifically for him on certain plays.
4. Rey Maualuga vs. Mike Hart
Rey Maualuga has the potential to be the best middle linebacker in the country. Unfortunately, he also has the potential to be overly aggressive and miss tackles and assignments. Against Michigan, Maualuga will be a huge part of the Trojan run defense and will be largely responsible for keeping Mike Hart in check. The Wolverine run offense is remarkably simple, but Hart can make things extremely complicated for opposing defenses. If Maualuga overpursues and allows Hart to cut back, the USC defense will be on the field for long stretches of time. But Maualuga certainly has the ability to meet Hart hard in the hole a few times early in the game and change the way the Wolverine tailback plays for the rest of the contest.
3. Dwayne Jarrett vs. Leon Hall
While it would be easy enough for John David Booty to simply keep the ball away from Leon Hall's side of the field, the Trojans can't allow the Wolverines to dictate any part of this game. Sure, Hall is a great player, but if he's matched up against Dwayne Jarrett, there's no reason to think that Jarrett can't win that battle every single play. But Booty must believe in his wide receiver and trust that Jarrett can go take the ball away from Hall. Several times this season, Booty has held onto the ball too long, waiting for his receiver to come wide open, rather than giving Jarrett or Steve Smith an opportunity to go up and make a play. If this is indeed Jarrett's final game in cardinal and gold, you can bet the All-American receiver will be at his best against the All-American cornerback.
2. Lane Kiffin vs. Ron English
Lane Kiffin has taken plenty of heat this season from Trojan supporters and you can bet that he will be squarely under the microscope against Michigan. This Wolverine defense is talented all over the field, so nothing will come easy for the Trojan offense. English was named the defensive coordinator of the year in 2006 and was probably salivating while watching film of the Trojans' game against UCLA. He will bring heat from anywhere on the field, but will probably be content, initially, to try generating pressure with just his front four. The Wolverines are good enough to shut down aspects of the Trojan offense and it will be interesting to see how quickly Kiffin and the other Trojan offensive coaches can adjust.
1. USC offensive line vs. Michigan defensive line
The entire game could come down to this matchup. There is no need to single out any one player when the Trojan offensive line is concerned. If all five USC linemen aren't at the top of their game, this Wolverine front will make life miserable for the Trojan tailbacks as well as John David Booty. With the speed of the Michigan front, the USC offense will probably try to move the ball with screens, draws and play-action rollouts. But it would be surprising if the Trojan front isn't able to gather their pride and outmuscle the Wolverine defense on several plays throughout the game. If the USC offensive line can keep the Michigan front at bay, the Trojans' skill players should be able to find space and put points on the board.
Erik McKinney is a columnist for WeAreSC.com. He can be reached at email@example.com