1. Protect the Freshman: Pete Carroll has said it time and time again, Matt Barkley is not your average freshman. But Barkley is still a freshman, making his first road start in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football, so there could be some bumps in the road.
105,000 screaming Ohio State fans and eleven talented defenders are going to do their best to rattle the first-year quarterback, so keeping his uniform nice and clean on Saturday will be a top priority for the Men of Troy.
Barkley displayed the poise of an upperclassman with a steady performance in the season-opening victory over San Jose State, but playing Ohio State in the Horseshoe is a completely different challenge.
The Trojans have a deep, veteran offensive line that is among the best in the nation and will get a big boost from the return of All-Pac-10 center Kristofer O’Dowd, who missed the opener with a dislocated kneecap.
Last week, the Trojans’ rushed for 342 yards and Jeremy Bates will likely look to establish the running game early with a large dose of Joe McKnight, Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson. If the ground attack gets on track it will soften up the Ohio State defense and take some pressure off of Barkley, as well as open up play-action opportunities down the field.
“This situation, it would be nice to get that part of our game going,” Carroll said of his ground game. “It will help us in the passing game and make them have to focus on slowing us down. If we are able to do that it will really help the whole football team.”
If Barkley has another solid game and isn’t affected by the Ohio State crowd then the sky is the limit for this kid.
2. Contain Pryor: The USC Trojans have struggled at times with dual-threat quarterbacks like Dennis Dixon and Vince Young, and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor presents similar problems.
The 6-foot-6, 235 sophomore causes headaches for opposing defensive coordinators because he is a real game breaker that can beat you with his arm and legs.
The challenge that Pryor presents, is the Trojans’ can execute a perfect pass defense and he will then pull the ball down and run for a first down, so the USC’s defensive ends and linebackers will be responsible for keeping Pryor from escaping outside of the pocket and breaking off big gains.
Last year, strong safety Kevin Ellison had a team-high 10 tackles against Ohio State, so look for Will Harris to come up in run support and be a big factor in this game.
If the Trojans’ can contain Pryor then the Men of Troy should escape the Horseshoe with another impressive nonconference road win.
3. Start Fast: It’s no secret that the Buckeyes have struggled in big games of late, so if USC can jump out to an early lead it will alter the entire dynamic of the game.
First off, it will help to silence the Ohio State crowd, which takes pressure off freshman quarterback Barkley and helps the offense with their in-game communications.
Second, it puts doubt in the minds of the Buckeye players, who may start to doubt whether they can hang with the juggernaut that is the USC Trojans.
Third, it will make the Buckeyes’ offense predictable because they will need to rely on the passing game to try and catch up. If USC can force Pryor to be a drop back passer then the Trojans, who have the best secondary in the country will be in very good shape.
Protecting Matt Barkley will be critical for the Trojans. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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