weekend Friday night, our beleaguered Buffaloes take on the Trojans of Troy Southern California in the 2011 blackout game at Folsom Field. We currently sit at 1-8 (shudder), while USC is 6-2. While there are many signs that point to this being yet another blowout victory by the opponents, there are also a few things that may signal a change in fortune for our Buffaloes. I'll weave them into our key matchups for the game:
- Injured Buffaloes vs. Returning From Injury.
Follow the jump to see what I look like in a child's Batman costume!
- It's usually ridiculous to expect guys to return from knee injuries at full strength and ready to go for a full game, but that's exactly what we'll need from Rodney Stewart and Paul Richardson. Having them back really does make us a different offense. By themselves they may not make all of the difference, but having them back is necessary for us to put points on the board. Toney Clemons is finally making an impact, which means if there's a legitimate weapon on the other side, both Richardson and Clemons may have an easier time of catching the ball. And have a downfield threat will help our running game, which has been on an incredibly low simmer without Stewart (though it wasn't great with him, either). But hopefully seeing them back on the field will energize the rest of the offense, making their return a pretty big deal.
- The Interior of Our Offensive Line vs. The Interior of the USC Defensive Line
- Before the season, we were supposed to have one of the best guard tandems in the conference. Two guys with good size and a number of starts under their belts, helping a rookie center to adjust to the college game. Well, Ethan Adkins and Ryan Miller haven't been that yet this year, but the season isn't over. They need to rise up to the challenge that the Trojans bring, in maybe the best defensive Tackles in the Pac 12. If we are going to have any success, our guards and Gus Handler (or Daniel Munyer or Shawn Daniels) all need to raise their level of play to heights yet unseen in 2011. Otherwise, our offense will be going nowhere fast.
- Ryan Deehan vs. The Cover-2
- It really isn't just Deehan, but all of the tight ends and slot receivers. The middle linebacker in USC's scheme is responsible for covering the middle of the field behind him instead of the safeties. That means that it's up to Deehan, Logan Gray, Keenan Canty and whoever else we send over the middle to get open around Chris Galippo in the middle of the field so that Hansen has targets right in front of him. Stanford did this well (though they're TEs are the best in the
businessconference), and it's something we need to do as well. Galippo is a solid MLB, but he's not the greatest when backpedaling, and we need to take advantage of that.
- Our Back Seven vs. Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Co.
- I don't know if you've heard, but USC has yet another pretty good quarterback. Matt Barkley (who we may have to face again next year...) is pretty good. Sure, he's no Andrew Luck, but he very nearly beat Luck and the Tree this past weekend. And the difference between him and Luck? Barkley has much better wide receivers. Robert Woods is pretty amazing, but he can be bottled up. By us? I don't know, but we certainly have to do our best. And if he's covered, well they've got other guys who can do plenty of damage as well. So our linebackers and defensive backs really have to play well on Friday. They can allow completions, but they have to limit yards after the catch or else we're done. The possible return of Parker Orms and Paul Vigo (from suspensions) plus another week of practice by Travis Sandersfeld won't make all the difference, but it will help a bit, and that's all we can ask for.
- Greg Brown vs. Being Aggressive
- I feel bad for the guy. Sure, his defense has been terrible this year, but he's also dealt with a number of injuries and our perceived weakness (DBs) was weakened even further before the season even began. Still, we need to see some improvement out of this unit at some point, and playing more conservatively certainly won't get the job done. Yes, we're terrible in coverage, but dropping more players back isn't helping that. We need to blitz and bother Barkley, and we need to make things happen. The ball can't bounce our way if it isn't bouncing, so lets get that ball bouncing!
- One of the Young Guys vs. Stepping up on a National Stage
- The guys that Jon Embree and the rest of the coaching staff brought here are tasked with returning this program to its former glory. The best way to begin that reversal? Show us that you're up to the job by playing big on national TV in a Friday night game. This is where a guy like Brady Daigh (who has been pretty solid with the time he's gotten) or Woodson Greer (who looks the part) or Juda Parker or Kyle Washington (athletes who have great potential) can demonstrate with his play, that the Buffaloes are going places. This coaching staff is supposed to be bringing in big-time players, and this is the best time for us to be shown that.
One Final Thing:
- The Buffaloes vs. The Spotlight
- Over the past few years, even when we've been bad, we've always gotten ourselves up for one home game and knocked off a ranked opponent. USC is the last one left on our schedule, so if we're going to continue that trend, it has to be them. Do I expect us to come out and play like we're a completely different team? No, but I also feel like the return of some players could be a shot in the arm for these guys. Plus, a Friday night blackout game at home under the lights could be what these guys need to come out and play like they believe in themselves. Sure, we're not that deep or talented, but at least we're facing a team that is also not that deep. Lets see what these kids can do