The Hawaii Warriors won the coin toss and opted to defer, leaving the Fox broadcasters wondering aloud if it was a smart idea to hand the ball to the USC Trojans’ high-powered offense.
One play later, they had their answer, as USC senior quarterback Matt Barkley hit Marqise Lee for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
It was a big start for the Trojans, who won by a final score of 49-10, but it wasn’t even Lee’s biggest play of the game. Early in the second quarter, the sophomore had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put USC up, 42-7.
Barkley also connected with junior receiver Robert Woods for two touchdowns, but as he did last season, Lee stole the show. Woods finished with six catches for 42 yards, while Lee had 10 grabs for 197 yards, plus a 100-yard return, and two touchdowns.
Penn State transfer Silas Redd scored his first touchdown as a Trojan late the first half, converting a 4th down and two into a 31-yard run. Senior Curtis McNeal, who ran for 1,000 yards last season, was expected to split carries with Redd, but even though Redd fumbled early in the game, McNeal didn’t have the same opportunities he was used to getting in 2011, finishing with just five carries for 10 yards.
The USC offense was expected to put on a show, but the defense was a bit of an unknown commodity.
Back in 2010, in the last meeting between the two teams, the young defense looked unprepared after an offseason almost entirely free of tackling.
This time, the defense’s new starters were ready to go, constantly pressuring Hawaii quarterback Sean Schroeder and making big plays, like linebacker Hayes Pullard’s interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Redshirt sophomore Anthony Sarao, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin, redshirt freshman George Townsend, Jr., and true freshman Leonard Williams all added sacks.
Breslin, in his first start at defensive end in place of an injured Wes Horton, also had a fumble recovery.
While USC held Hawaii scoreless in the first half and ultimately won by a large margin, it could’ve been much worse for the Warriors.
In addition to Lee’s highlight reel plays, he also dropped three passes, two of which were sure touchdowns. Pullard had a pick-six, but he also drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a throat-slashing gesture after a big stop.
Penalties were one of USC’s few issues in their opener. The Trojans had eight penalties for 74 yards, including two delay of game penalties in the first quarter. They didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the game, but reducing penalties will be an area that USC continues to focus on; in a close game against a strong opponent later in the season, penalties could be the difference between a win and a loss.
The Trojans and special teams guru John Baxter also need to brush up on their skills. USC gave away more yardage than it should have on a few returns, and the team left points on the board after failing to convert three straight two-point tries.
Fortunately, the Trojans didn’t really need the extra points this evening. The team’s lead was substantial enough to give head coach Lane Kiffin the opportunities he wanted to give backups and rookies some game experience.
After tossing his fourth touchdown, an 11-yarder to tight end Randall Telfer in the fourth, Barkley called it a night and USC fans got to see backup quarterback Max Wittek in action.
If it was a glimpse into the future of the USC program, the Trojans have something to look forward to after 2012. Wittek completed all three of his pass attempts to talented, highly-recruited receivers George Farmer, Victor Blackwell, and Nelson Agholor.
Barkley and his prime targets aren’t even close to finished yet, though. They’ll return to the field this weekend when they face Syracuse at the Meadowlands at 3:30 p.m. ET.