#6 SR 6’1” 215-pound QB Cody Kessler
2015 stats: 89 for 122 for 1297, 10.6 YPA, 73% completion, 15 TD, 1 INT, 201.2 RAT
Sneak Peak: The fifth-year senior’s accuracy, arm strength, decision-making, and leadership, coupled with the surplus of talent surrounding him, make him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the PAC-12. Kessler limits his mistakes, shown by his six interceptions since the start of the 2014 season, while distributing the ball to his playmakers at a high clip. He currently ranks seventh in the nation in completion percentage as well as passing yards, and is tied with Baylor’s Seth Russell atop the leaderboard in passing touchdowns. Kessler is a seasoned veteran and the second tough quarterback the Huskies have had to face in their last two games.
Husky Comparison: A more experienced Jake Browning
#23 SR 6’1” 225-pound RB Tre Madden
2015 stats: 37 carries for 213 yards, 5.8 YPC, 44 long, 4 TD, 7 catches for 61 yards, 8.7 YPC, 30 long, 1 TD
Sneak Peak: Since he arrived at USC in 2011, Tre Madden has only had one season that has not been cut short or ended by injury - his true freshman season. Madden spent the entire 2011 season at strong-side linebacker. A position change and a few injuries later, the redshirt-senior has only 15 games of experience at running back. The style with which he runs represents the path he’s taken to lead the team in carries; he runs rough and tough behind his 225-pound frame. He’ll lead a committee of Trojan running backs in a solid rushing attack, a group that also includes Ronald Jones and Justin Davis.
Husky Comparison: Dwayne Washington
#9 SO 6’2” 215-pound WR Juju Smith-Schuster
2015 stats: 27 catches for 537 yards, 19.9 YPC, 61 long, 6 TD
Sneak Peak: After a successful true freshman campaign, Juju Smith-Schuster added experience and a hyphen to his last name. Smith-Schuster has the size, strength, and speed to beat just about any coverage. He is Cody Kessler’s go-to-guy and is a lock for quite a few targets Thursday night.
Husky Comparison: A much bigger Dante Pettis
#2 SO 5’10” 185-pound CB/WR Adoree' Jackson
2015 stats: 10 total tackles, 1 PD, 7 catches for 193 yards, 80 long, 1 TD
Sneak Peak: Adoree’ Jackson might be one of the most exciting players in the whole country. As a true freshman he started 10 games at corner and a game at receiver, while playing all three ways in eight of the Trojans’ 13 games. Jackson is great in coverage and has the top-end speed to make big splashes in the return game and at receiver.
#1 JR 6’1” 225-pound LB Su'a Cravens
2015 stats: 27 total tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF
Sneak Peak: Su’a Cravens has been a consistent force for the Trojan defense, starting every game since he arrived his freshman year. His versatile skillset and nose for the ball allows him to make plays in a variety of ways. His 68 tackles, 17 TFLs, five sacks, and three interceptions earned him Third Team All-American honors last season, and he’s off to just as good a start in 2015. His presence will be felt stopping the run, pressuring the quarterback, and stepping in passing lanes.
Husky Comparison: Cory Littleton
#35 FR 6’2” 245-pound LB Cameron Smith
2015 stats: 30 total tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PD
Sneak Peak: Injury issues for Lamar Dawson gave true-freshman Cameron Smith an opportunity to make an impact at inside linebacker. He has not disappointed. Smith currently leads the Trojans in tackles with 30, establishing himself as a consistent contributor to Southern California’s defense. The Huskies’ struggling run game could yield a big day for Smith if they don’t find an early solution.
Husky Comparison: Azeem Victor
#4 SO 5’11” 190-pound S Chris Hawkins
2015 stats: 15 total tackles, 1 INT, 2 fumble recoveries
Sneak Peak: The sophomore safety always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He’s been involved in nearly half of the Trojans takeaways, giving his offense more opportunities to put points on the board. Hawkins plays a solid centerfield safety role, coming up and making tackles when necessary and making big splash plays when teams try and test USC down the field.
Husky Comparison: Budda Baker
What the Trojan defense looks like
Although Justin Wilcox’s base 3-4 defensive unit is allowing 410 yards per game, their scoring defense ranks third in the PAC-12, allowing only 17.5 points per game. A big reason the Trojans are able to limit opponents to fewer than 20 points per game is their dominance with turnovers. The Trojans have tallied five interceptions and three fumble recoveries, while only turning the ball over twice themselves. Their plus-6 turnover margin ranks third in the PAC-12.They also rank in fifth in the PAC-12 in defensive third down efficiency, stopping their opponents 60 percent of the time. One area the Trojans have struggled with is time of possession; they are last in the PAC-12 at about 24:30 per game. Consistently moving the ball and avoiding turnovers makes this defense more beatable than their 17.5 points per game suggests.
What the Trojan offense looks like
The Trojans run a relatively balanced offense, running the ball about as often as they throw it. Tre Madden leads a trio of running backs that carries the ball roughly 32 times a game. The Trojans are picking up 5.4 yards per carry on the ground. Kessler is as consistent a passer as you’ll find, completing more than 70 percent of his passes. While 17 different Trojans have caught a pass this season, Smith-Schuster has double the receptions of any other receiver through four games. Southern California’s 532 yards per game ranks third in the PAC-12 and only Arizona has scored more points than the Trojans. The USC offense is one of the best in the nation and is very difficult to slow down when their up-tempo attack is rolling.
Keys to the game
- Pressure Jake Browning: California was able to pressure Jake Browning all game long, which meant the freshman quarterback had trouble getting in a groove all game long. Getting a consistent pass rush could lead to another long night for Browning, especially in a setting as daunting as the Los Angeles Coliseum.
- Keep the Husky defense on the field: This applies to the Trojan offense and defense. The Huskies only had 20 minutes of possession in their loss to California and 25 minutes of possession in their loss to Boise State. If the Trojans can keep moving the ball and convert first downs while their defense forces turnovers and punts, they will put the Huskies in the same boat they found themselves against the Bears and Broncos. It’s hard to score if you don’t have the ball long enough to find a rhythm.
- Don’t look past Washington: The Trojans take on Notre Dame the week after they play the Huskies. With a matchup of such importance right around the corner, it could be easy to overlook an unranked, unproven opponent like the Huskies. Looking past weaker teams is so often the cause of big upsets. The Trojans don’t want to fall to an unranked opponent for the second time this year.
- Find an offensive rhythm: In their two loses, the Huskies have had less than 26 minutes of possession. Failing to put together long drives and establish a rhythm makes it difficult for any offense to put up points, especially one as inexperienced as Washington. Finding that groove will be imperative if the Huskies want to keep up with the Trojans.
- Take care of the ball: The Trojans have forced eight turnovers while turning the ball over only twice. Their ability to force turnovers and refusal to turn the ball over themselves has given them extra drives to score. The Huskies’ five turnovers at home against played a big factor in an eventual six-point loss to California. Five turnovers at USC would equal a very forgettable loss.
- Run the ball: For at least one drive, Dwayne Washington found some success running the ball against California. If the Huskies build off that momentum and get something going on the ground, it will take a lot of pressure off Browning in his first road conference game.