USC anxiously awaits Minnesota

first_imgToo many questions in the offseason, too few answers to know exactly what to expect.Will the defense be better? Will the offensive line hold up? Who will start at running back?On Saturday at 12:30 p.m., some of those lingering doubts should begin to disappear.Expectations · The coaching staff believes junior quarterback Matt Barkley is ready to improve upon his sophomore campaign. Tabbed as one of four captains heading into the season, Barkley hopes to throw 30 touchdown passes and complete 70 percent of his passes in 2010. – Daily Trojan file photoIn its season opener, No. 25 USC hosts Minnesota, a team that compiled a 3-9 record last season and finished second to last in the Big Ten. Despite its poor finish that led to the firing of Minnesota’s then-coach Tim Brewster in mid-October, the Trojans insist they aren’t taking the Golden Gophers lightly.“They have a whole different coaching staff and they know how to get their players fired up,” junior left tackle Matt Kalil said. “It’ll be a completely different team than last year and we can’t let this team catch us off guard.”Taking over for Brewster on the sidelines is first-year coach Jerry Krill, who spent three seasons at Northern Illinois, leading the Huskies to a 10-win season in 2010 and an appearance in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl.Former wide-receiver-turned- quarterback MarQueis Gray, a dual-threat quarterback, returns, but this time he will line up under center. For a defensive unit that has historically struggled against mobile quarterbacks such as Oregon’s Darron Thomas and Washington’s Jake Locker, the coaching staff knows it will serve as a big test.“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “He’s not just a mobile quarterback, but he’s a big, physical quarterback. We’re going to have our hands full. This is a very, very big challenge for our defense right away.”Outside of Gray, Minnesota returns senior running back Duane Bennett and senior wide receiver Da’John McKnight, who led the team in receptions and touchdowns a year ago. Both have the ability to make big plays, something the Trojans are quite familiar with.For a unit that was ranked 84th in total defense last season, giving up 400 yards per game and almost 27 points per contest, they understand they have a lot to prove.“We need to show that we got better in the secondary against the pass and we need to show that we can tackle,” sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said. “I think we’ve gotten better overall in camp, but we just have to play our defense and pay attention to our coverages.”Another lingering question mark has been a young offensive line, which features no senior starters. The Trojans lost right tackle Tyron Smith and center Kristofer O’Dowd to the NFL, while also dealing with injuries in fall camp. Only junior left tackle Matt Kalil will be playing a familiar position, with junior Khaled Holmes moving from right guard to center. All of this leaves some uncertainty heading into Saturday, although junior quarterback Matt Barkley expressed no concern at all.“I’m not worried,” Barkley said. “We’ll deal with it in the game. If mistakes come, then so be it. But I think these guys are ready.”Though a couple questions remain about who will start up front to protect Barkley, there is even more doubt as to whom will start at tailback. With senior Marc Tyler suspended, the job has been a free-for-all among junior Curtis McNeal, sophomore Dillon Baxter, redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan and freshman Amir Carlisle. Of the four, only Baxter logged carries in 2010.The coaching staff has not indicated which player will get the starting nod yet, although all four tailbacks have earned praise during fall camp for their play.Though Barkley might have some unfamiliar faces around him on offense, one welcoming sign will be sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods, who was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2010 after finishing with 65 receptions for 792 yards and six touchdowns.During last season’s contest against the Gophers, USC recovered from a sluggish start and a late 14-13 deficit to win by a score of 32-21. Sparking the comeback was Woods, who returned a punt to give the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish. As one of the Trojans’ six returning starters on offense, Woods knows the coaching staff expects a strong sophomore campaign.“The coaching staff expects a lot from me,” Woods said. “As a leader this year, they’re expecting me to make plays and be ready to carry the load.”While the Trojans, who haven’t played a game since their season finale against UCLA last December, might be a bit anxious, they insist the visiting Gophers have their full attention.“We look at them like any other team on our schedule,” Robey said. “But it’s about us. We’re taking care of our issues first and keeping a level head.”last_img read more