USC’s explosive offensive wasted no time Saturday demonstrating its big-play potential.
On the first play from scrimmage, sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee snared a five-yard pass near the sideline, eluded an oncoming tackler and raced to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown. No. 1 USC (1-0, 0-0), buttressed by Lee’s 10 receptions for 197 yards and an additional 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, steamrolled Hawai’i 49-10 before an announced Coliseum sell-out of 93,607 fans.
“Today showed what I thought was going to happen with [Lee], just watching him from year one to year two,” Kiffin said. “He’s so much bigger and stronger now.… The first guy rarely ever tackles him.”
Lee, who at one point during the game seemed poised to challenge former wide receiver R. Jay Soward’s USC single-game record of 260 receiving yards, was quick to deflect praise, instead crediting his teammates with key blocks on both big plays and bemoaning a couple of dropped passes.
“You see [Lee] make cuts when people are coming to the side,” Kiffin said. “It’s why I think he’ll be the best one ever [at USC] when it’s all said and done.”
Though Kiffin praised Lee effusively, he also pointed out the budding star’s two dropped passes. The Trojans graded their offensive production as average, noting that the receiving corps dropped a couple of surefire receptions, and the running game, outside of junior running back Silas Redd’s 31-yard touchdown scamper, struggled to gain consistent yards.
USC running backs combined for 82 yards rushing on 23 attempts, a pedestrian 3.6 yards per rush. In his USC debut, Redd ran for 57 yards on nine carries and added a 19-yard reception, which he ultimately fumbled. His co-starter, senior running back Curtis McNeal, struggled to find his rhythm, finishing the game with 10 yards on five carries.
“It was bittersweet; I feel like we could have scored at least 100 points in the first half,” said senior quarterback Matt Barkley, who exited the game midway through the fourth quarter after completing 23 of 38 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
On defense, USC nabbed two interceptions and recovered two fumbles, statistics that bode well for a defense that has stressed creating more turnovers this season. Sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard recorded six tackles and returned an interception 27 yards for a touchdown.
“The storyline was the first-team defense and the defensive line,” Kiffin said.
Even without senior defensive end Wes Horton, who sat out with an undisclosed injury, USC’s defensive line — a unit in flux entering 2012 — provided consistent pressure, registering four sacks. Junior defensive end Morgan Breslin, who made his USC debut, headlined the effort in the trenches, forcing a fumble, recording a sack and leveling several hits on Hawai’i quarterback Sean Schroeder.
Freshman Leonard Williams also announced his readiness for Football Bowl Subdivision play, adding a sack of his own and jarring Schroeder on the pass attempt that Pullard ultimately intercepted.
“Our defensive linemen, they’re very young, but they come out there and play extremely fast,” Pullard said. “The safeties were playing better than ever. Everyone was talking [negatively] about our [defensive backs] and our defensive line; [they] just went out, executed the defense and played fast.”
Kiffin was not only happy to begin the season with the victory, but also pleased to use most of his roster, including 25 defenders. He hopes the playing time will benefit his inexperienced back-ups and prepare them for increased roles.
“Glad to be 1-0,” Kiffin said. “A lot of the teams in the country aren’t. We made it through the game relatively healthy and played a lot of players, which was good. Even before the game got out of hand, we were rotating a lot of guys in.… I’m excited to get to this film to see a lot of kids that haven’t played a lot.”