Pete Carroll’s debut as USC’s coach seems distant, but his first game still evokes clear memories for the nine-year leader of the Trojans.
San Jose State came to Los Angeles in 2001 to face a USC team that was coming off a 5-7 season and had little reason for optimism. The Coliseum was at less than half capacity for the opener with an announced crowd of 45,568.
“It was so quiet you could hear the band play every time,” Carroll said.
A sellout crowd isn’t expected for Saturday’s game — tickets were still available for purchase as of Thursday afternoon — but plenty has changed for the team in the eight years since it last faced the Spartans. Expectations ride high again for No. 4 USC, which will face San Jose State at the Coliseum on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Matt Barkley will become the first true freshman to start an opener at quarterback for USC in the program’s history, as well as the first to start the season for a top-10 team since Chad Henne opened for Michigan in 2004.
Past USC quarterbacks such as Mark Sanchez, John David Booty and Matt Leinart have used their debuts as starters in season openers as a spring board to season-long success. But Carroll admitted that Barkley would have to mature quickly because of his inexperience.
“We don’t feel any differently about it than we felt with other guys,” Carroll said. “He’s just impressed us from the first day he got here, and he won the job under the circumstances.”
Despite having his team enter the game as a 33-point favorite, Carroll said his team has a significant road block ahead of it in the Spartans defense. San Jose State coach Dick Tomey was the architect of Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense in the ‘90s.
Tomey brought his all-out blitzes with him to San Jose and helped his team finish 10th in the country in pass defense last year and 11th in sacks.
“I grew up watching it, and it’s a challenge,” said quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates of Tomey’s defensive system.
Tomey said he wouldn’t plan differently for Barkley than he would any other quarterback.
“We come after all quarterbacks. I don’t care if they play five years, 10 years, no years,” he said. “That’s just the way we have played.”
Saturday will also serve as an introduction to USC’s fresh-faced defense. The unit is facing even more changes than expected after Shareece Wright was announced academically ineligible and Derek Simmons was ruled out with a sprained ankle.
USC’s defense did receive a boost on Thursday, though, when it was announced that linebacker Luthur Brown had been cleared to play in the opener after sitting out training camp because of academic concerns. The veteran Brown adds experience to a linebacking group that is attempting to replace its three starters from last year.
Injuries and instability forced San Jose State’s offense to limp to 112th in the country last season in total offense. Jordan La Secla and California transfer Kyle Reed are expected to rotate at quarterback on Saturday.
Both of San Jose State’s starting wide receivers sat out most of last year due to injury. But Kevin Jurovich, who had more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2007, and Jalal Beauchman will be ready on Saturday.
Running back Patrick Perry will also play for the Spartans for the first time since 2006 after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Perry will look to boost the San Jose State rushing attack, which averaged less than 87 yards per game last season.