3 Keys to a Trojan Victory

The USC Trojans open the 2008 season on Saturday against the Virginia Cavaliers. SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett breaks down the two teams and lets you know the 3 Keys to a Trojan Victory.

1) Dominate the line of scrimmage

UVA's predominant weaknesses lie within their offensive and defensive lines. USC has to exploit this and dictate tempo within the first five minutes of the game. If they push the Cavs around up front early and often, it will set the tone that could last the whole day.

On the offensive side, the Trojan line must protect Mark Sanchez, especially given the injury suffered to his kneecap three weeks ago. If Sanchez experiences success early on, look for

Jeff Byers
SC to get out to a lead in which they never look back. UVA will be breaking in two new linemen on their 3-4 defense who have never experienced the intensity of opening a college football season in front of a capacity crowd, let alone against a perennial powerhouse like USC. You may have to excuse them if they are a little star struck. Their inexperience is a major factor that must be exploited.

After suffering numerous injuries in fall camp, the Trojan starting offensive line has been working cohesively for the past two weeks, benefiting heavily by the return of Jeff Byers, the heart and sole of the unit. Sophomore Kris O'Dowd is quickly becoming the leader the coaching staff envisioned when they signed him, which is an extremely important characteristic for the Center of a national championship contending team.

On the other side of the ball, USC's defensive line must get penetration and force non-stop pressure on the unproven Virginia quarterbacks. If the Trojans can get in their faces and punish them early on, the Cavs entire offense could split at the seams. It is imperative that Kyle Moore and Everson Griffen attack vigorously from their defensive end positions, while Fili Moala dominates the interior. This will free LB's Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, giving them wide open lanes to blitz through and apply fierce pressure on the Hoos backfield. In relentlessly attacking the UVA QB, this also allows Cary Harris, Shareece Wright, Kevin Thomas and Josh Pinkard to stay on top of their man coverage...and you have to feel good about Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison patrolling the hash marks to the sidelines. The D-Line sets the tone for the rest of the defense to dominate. Without pressure up front, your blitzes are picked up and your DB's lose coverage, making your day on defense much tougher than it needs to be.

2) Establish the running game in the first quarter

Whichever lucky contestant gets the early carries as USC running back has to move the chains consistently. This accomplishes two things: Demoralizing the UVA defense, and keeping the pressure off Sanchez, instead allowing him to settle into the game and gain confidence with each minute that passes.

Joe McKnight
C.J. Gable returned to the practice field this week and looks every bit of 100%. He and Stafon Johnson will get the majority of the early reps, but keep an eye out for Joe McKnight, whom the Trojans habitually employed on second down last year. This game could serve as his official coming out party in his third year in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's system. Carroll and Sark have always planned on utilizing McKnight similarly to the way they created around Reggie Bush, we hope this game starts the season off right for McKnight. Allen Bradford is the big, physical punisher that may split carries with all-around threat Stanley Havilii in short yardage and goal line situations.

The other important impact the running backs must have on the game lie within blitz pickup. It would not be surprising to see Al Groh blitzing his linebackers early on to get to Sanchez and rattle him. They would like to test his knee and see if it's able to withstand pressure. Nagurski candidate Clint Sintim is a major threat coming off the outside and the interior LB's, Jon Copper and Antonio Appleby are chalk full of experience. When UVA comes at SC with 8 men rushing the passer, it is absolutely crucial that the RB in the game for the Trojans picks up his assignment and lays a shoulder on the open man.

3) Win the turnover battle

This is Coach Carroll's focus week in, week out. Winning the battle for turnovers is a big part of USC's success on defense and this game is no different. It has become what they are known for nationally. When SC applies pressure, opportunities arise for them. They must take advantage of these situations, look to wreck havoc and create loose ball situations. The inexperience at QB for the Cavs matched against the speed and athleticism on the SC defense could provide many of those situations. If SC can capitalize, this game could get ugly.

Prediction: USC 31, UVA 9

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