With the upcoming bowl game, FTRS will be spotlighting the three phases of the game and how the two opponents stack up. First up, Tech's Achilles Heel, its defense, against USC's offense.
1. Matt Barkley is likely out for the game with a strained shoulder. He reportedly doesn't even have his helmet or pads with him. The preseason Heisman favorite is a senior QB who is the obvious leader for the Trojans. He'll be sorely missed, though his replacement, 6-4, 235lb redshirt freshman Max Wittek, is no slouch either -- he was rated the #3 QB in the nation as a recruit. That said though, Wittek has yet to prove anything -- his only start was in a 9-point loss to USC on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Wittek will have a tall task ahead of him as he goes against an athletic secondary.
2. Isaiah Johnson is out for the game, and probably the spring too. He suffered a major knee injury in practice on what was called a "freak accident" where he just jumped and came down on his knee wrong. He's probably looking at surgery and is unlikely to be ready for spring practice. Now, say what you will about Johnson, but at the end of the day the junior is our leading tackler on our defense and is a two-year starter after seeing significant time during his freshman season. We're going to miss him quite a bit in our secondary. To compensate, my understanding is that Jemea Thomas will move back to his more natural position and redshirt freshman Chris Milton will start at the other safety spot, with Rod Sweeting and Louis Young starting at the two corner spots. This is a big deal, because...
3. Tech's defense will have a tough time containing USC Wide Receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. As much as USC might be worried about starting a freshman QB, they have to take some comfort knowing that they've got two #1 NFL-caliber receivers on the outside. Woods and Lee will be in the NFL within a few years, and Woods might be drafted in April. Both have major talent. That said, it's no secret that Rod Sweeting has had a down year, and Louis Young has struggled in fighting off injuries all year, meaning our secondary has their work cut out for them on this one.
4. When they're not busy defending the pass, Tech's defense will have to contain Junior RB Silas Redd. Remember that highly-touted running back who jumped ship amidst all of the Penn State nonsense this summer? Yeah, he wears Cardinal and Gold now, and will be lining up behind Max Wittek. So basically, now Tech's defense is looking at not only defending one of the most talented passing attacks in the country (note: I didn't say most effective), but also one of the most talented ball carriers in the country.
Overall, I think Tech's defense is going to need some help in the form of USC's defense beating themselves. It's not unthinkable that they might get it, but the point is that Tech's personnel is overmatched in a similar way that they were against Florida State. We need a huge game from the guys up front, because without a significant pass rush or being able to effectively bottle up the run game, we'll have a tough time winning this game.
Personally, I expect that we'll give up 30+ points, and our talent deficit will show significantly. How do you feel? Do we come up with a miraculous performance? Does USC beat themselves? Do we give up 30+ in the first half? I want to hear your predictions.