This week, the Dawgs head down to Los Angeles to take on the Trojans in the LA Coliseum. Ahead of this crucial matchup, I caught up with Scott Wolf of InsideUSC to get the lowdown on USC’s team so far this season:
MS: Nearly 2 years ago now, USC shocked the college football world by poaching Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. In that time, he transformed USC back into a program at the center of college football. What have you liked about Riley and his approach?
SW: The impressive part of Riley’s return is how he transformed the roster with transfers and he made the team exciting to watch and brought in a generational quarterback, who was able to win a Heisman Trophy. His immediate impact has also been a double-edged sword because fans expected significant improvement in Year 2, which has not happened. But that is illustrated by what I didn’t like in his approach, which was simply hiring his own assistants like Alex Grinch instead of going out and getting the best assistants in the country.
MS: Of course, with Riley in tow, Caleb Williams followed him to the Trojans shortly thereafter. Last season, he ran away with the Heisman Trophy, and is probably going to be the first pick in April’s NFL Draft. We know about his strengths, his great arm and ability to extend plays with his running ability to name two, but what are his weaknesses as a quarterback, and how can UW’s defense keep him off balance?
SW: Teams have figured out this season that Caleb Williams struggles when they can get pressure with four linemen. Cal sacked Williams four times last weekend and his performances have been spotty as the USC offensive line failed to protect him the past month. For Washington to be successful Saturday, it will need an effective pass rush, first and foremost.
MS: The Trojans have more than a few electric wide receivers on their roster. There is, of course, Dorian Singer, the Arizona transfer, but there’s also Michael Jackson III, Brenden Rice, Mario Williams and Tahj Washington. Who is the best of the bunch, and what other pass catchers will play a role in USC’s aerial attack? How much of a factor will the running game be to compliment the pass, in this air raid offense?
SW: The best receiver recently has been Tahj Washington, which is interesting because he received less hype than Dorian Singer or Mario Williams before the season. But Singer and Williams have had quiet seasons. The truth is USC likes to spread the ball around to its receivers so it doesn’t have a go-to guy like Jordan Addison last year. But sometimes this is a problem because it doesn’t have someone it can always rely on to get open. Tight end Lake McRee is an under-the-radar guy because USC doesn’t throw to the tight end a lot but he does get open.
Lincoln Riley was criticized after the Utah loss for abandoning the run so he responded by running 40 times againt Cal (USC also passed 40 times). It’s a mystery why they don’t run more with MarShawn Lloyd, who is also an effective receiver.
MS: Let’s talk about the elephant (or Grinch) in the room: What are your feelings on Alex Grinch as DC of the Trojans?
SW: Alex Grinch is a nice guy and very open with the media. But his defenses have been a disaster. When you let Cal have 527 yards in total offense, you have major problems. The players don’t seem to grasp his schemes and as the year progresses, the defense is not getting better. I do not expect him to return next season
MS: It’s time for a score prediction! What will the score be in this gladiatorial duel between two heavyweights in The Coliseum?.
SW: Washington 45, USC 42.
Thanks Scott! For my answers to his questions, check out InsideUSC!