Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
USC opens up its season with a 50-point romp, beating up a lesser opponent before a supposed “game of the year” the following week against a highly ranked team.
Ohio State stumbles before the “game of the year,” playing down to an inferior opponent and having to hold on for dear life.
If it sounds familiar, you’re thinking of last year. In 2008, the Trojans defeated Virginia, 52-7, while the Buckeyes escaped with a 16-13 win over Ohio.
And how about that “game of the year” the next week? The 2008 USC-OSU game was not much of a game at all: Trojans 35, Buckeyes 3.
This year, the two teams are off to similar starts. USC trounced San Jose State 56-3, while Ohio State needed late-game heroics to hold on against Navy, 31-27.
So what’s to say the result Saturday won’t be the same as last year? Why can’t the Trojans walk into the Horseshoe, drop another 35 on the Buckeyes and walk away big winners again?
There’s the obvious disparity in quarterback experience. Terrelle Pryor was essentially handed the reigns in the middle of last year’s blowout in the Coliseum, getting the bulk of the playing time for the remainder of the season.
The sophomore threw 12 touchdown passes and ran for another six in 2008 while starting all of OSU’s key games down the stretch.
“He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he’s doing what he’s doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday via telephone.
USC’s signal-caller will be true freshman Matt Barkley who, in case you’ve forgotten, has yet to make a collegiate start on the road or against a ranked opponent.
Then there’s the revenge element. The Buckeyes have to be seething after failing to show up in last year’s contest, and while there’s so much turnover from the ’08 squad, it still has to sting.
And, of course, USC takes its show on the road this time around. The Horseshoe will be packed Saturday night and it’ll be a loud place to play.
“You have to focus in the huddle,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Everybody watches the play caller so you can see his expressions and make the most of the communication. And we have to make our calls.”
But that alone is not enough to make this game close.
Pryor was unimpressive in OSU’s biggest games last year. He threw an interception, was sacked four times and averaged 1.3 yards on 15 rushes in a three-point win at Wisconsin.
He was picked off once and averaged less than a yard per attempt on nine rushes in a 13-6 loss at home against Penn State, which all but ended the Buckeyes’ shot at the national title game.
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl didn’t go much better; he was 5-13 for 66 yards, with no scores of any kind.
The rest of the team around him is inexperienced as well. James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Chris “Beanie” Wells, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline are just a few of the veteran names gone from last year’s roster.
“From a playing standpoint, [Pryor is] kind of a veteran. That’s a little bit daunting for a young person that young to be the guy with the most experience,” Tressel said.
He added: “We lost some real good ones from the defense, but hopefully this young bunch will get old faster.”
Yes, USC’s defense also suffered tremendous turnover. A new corps of linebackers will start at the Horseshoe Saturday. The defensive line has new faces. But even Tressel recognizes the group’s tremendous talent.
“If you took the jersey numbers off the guys and just had them out there without numbers, you’d think you were watching last year’s film,” Tressel said. “Again, they know exactly what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, the way to do it.”
USC’s ground game remains potent, with junior Joe McKnight looking rejuvenated, redshirt junior Allen Bradford stronger than ever, senior Stafon Johnson in top shape and redshirt junior CJ Gable a force as well.
He doesn’t need to be the hero Saturday. He needs to hand the football off, make the easy throws and let the offense carry him — not the other way around. If he can do that, his inexperience won’t be a factor.
Don’t forget — if Carroll didn’t think Barkley was capable of winning these games, then he wouldn’t be starting.
So what does this mean come Saturday?
It means the chips are in place for another not-so-close game. 35-3? Probably not. But a comfortable, double-digit point win? A likely outcome.
“Thrilla on Manilla Paper” runs every other Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.