first_imgPREDICTION: 35-17, USC Junior running back Stephen Carr and senior wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. head downfield against Washington State during the 2018 season. (Tal Volk | Daily Trojan) With a new offensive coordinator in Graham Harrell and a roster that looks very different from that of last season, pinning down exactly what type of team the Trojans will be this year is a tough task. The first step toward finding out comes Saturday when the Trojans take on a Fresno State team that finished 12-2 and ranked No. 18 nationally at the end of last season. TROJAN OFFENSE VS BULLDOG DEFENSE After an offseason filled with uncertainty, USC football once again finds itself preparing for another season. Following the unmitigated disaster of last year’s 5-7 season, expectations for the team are less certain than they have been in nearly two decades.  The Trojans’ receiving depth does not end there — they also welcome back dangerous playmakers like sophomore Devon Williams and redshirt junior Velus Jones Jr. and have added talented freshmen like Munir McClain and Drake London. The Trojan secondary, although talented, is just as inexperienced — cornerbacks sophomore Olaijah Griffin and redshirt freshman Isaac Taylor-Stuart will be starting for the first time in their young careers, and safeties redshirt junior Isaiah Pola-Mao and sophomore Talanoa Hufanga have just seven starts between them.  On the ground, Fresno State should be a middle-of-the-pack unit. Lead back junior Ronnie Rivers was effective last season — averaging a healthy 5.6 yards per game and scoring 10 touchdowns — yet he only accrued 132 carries. With the uncertainty surrounding the Bulldogs’ passing offense, don’t be too surprised to see them lean further on the run game this week then they did last year. Both of these units will be hard to pin down until we see them in action. Fresno State’s passing offense was one of the most efficient in the country last season, but quarterback Marcus McMaryion is gone, along with two of his top three receivers. The reins of the offense are now in the hands of senior quarterback Jorge Reyna, who has just 12 career pass attempts. However, this is not a pure Air Raid offense like that employed by head coach Mike Leach at Washington State. Harrell and Helton have both been clear about their intent to pound the ball on the ground as well — the run game doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an afterthought. Harrell has brought an entirely new offensive philosophy to USC, a spread passing game more akin to the Air Raid offenses prevalent across the college football landscape than to the pro-style offense USC has always employed. The offense will look to make things easier for the quarterback, simplifying route combinations and allowing for quicker reads. USC’s offensive line is one of the team’s biggest question marks this season, and the Fresno State front should offer a test to start the year. Although they ranked among the worst teams in the nation in sack rate, the Bulldogs were stout against the run last year, allowing the 30th-fewest rushing yards per game and the second-fewest rushing touchdowns. Expect both junior Stephen Carr and redshirt junior Vavae Malepeai to get significant reps at running back, and redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp has had a phenomenal offseason. It’s possible for any of the three to lead the backfield in touches. USC’s wide receiving corps should also contribute greatly to making life easier for sophomore quarterback JT Daniels. Senior Michael Pittman Jr. looks primed to be one of the nation’s top receivers, while savvy route runner redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns and uber-gifted sophomore Amon-Ra St. Brown also return as starters.  TROJAN OFFENSE VS BULLDOG DEFENSE The Bulldogs’ front seven is led by senior middle linebacker Mykal Walker, who was named to the All-Mountain West First Team last season. Behind him is a secondary in transition. The Bulldogs lost two starters there, yet their talented returners in the defensive backfield still make the unit Fresno State’s best defensive asset. Senior safety Juju Hughes and defensive back Jaron Bryant are both playmakers who made the Thorpe Award preseason watch list. The battle between that secondary and USC’s receivers should be one of the most entertaining matchups of the night. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Trojans, the raw talent on the roster should be more than enough to overcome a Fresno State team that lost most of its best performers from last year. The story would be different if this was last year’s Bulldog squad, but it isn’t. Expect the deficiencies of the Trojan roster to show — hiccups from Daniels, offensive line miscues and secondary blunders are likely to be noticeable Saturday. Even still, the talent of the new-look Trojans and their new direction as a team will likely be enough to overwhelm Fresno State.last_img

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