“What three things will you be watching for in the USC spring game on Saturday?”
Buck Allen: There might not be a player on the roster who has more to gain on Saturday. Think about how quickly things have changed in the opportunity department for Allen. Just a week ago, Tre Madden was the buzz of camp in a role that Allen had hoped to fill while Allen had yet to take part in a practice this spring due to a hamstring injury. Now, Madden is out and Allen has been able to take part in the last two practices. It stands to reason he will get plenty of carries on Saturday and -- if he can do well -- it would go a long way toward sending the coaches into the offseason with a good feeling about his future role.
Antwaun Woods: Another player who has seen his fortunes change dramatically. Woods was an afterthought last fall as a redshirt and there wasn’t a whole lot of talk of him being ready to contribute this year. He has come out and played well, however, and offers a bigger load in the middle than J.R. Tavai, who had been the starter at nose tackle for most of the spring. As Woods has shown an improved game he has seen his share of reps recently with the first unit as well and this will be a big test for him to see how he performs in the scrimmage.
Cody Kessler vs. Max Wittek: There aren’t too many times when the backup quarterback competition receives this much attention, but there is a lot of interest from USC fans in seeing which one of these two has the upper hand to be Barkley’s heir apparent. So far this spring, all the Coliseum scrimmages have been limited in one way or the other so there hasn’t really been a chance for them to test themselves in that kind of setting. The Saturday spring game will offer that test and it’s somewhat appropriate to have it be that way, a one-shot “audition” in front of the large crowd with so much on the line for both players.
TB Buck Allen: Allen will have three full practices under his belt by the time the Trojans line up on Saturday, and the spring game will offer a tremendous opportunity for Allen to prove to the coaches and his team that he is capable of helping in the backfield this fall. Curtis McNeal is a great start as a lead back and D.J. Morgan has had a nice spring, but getting Allen to where he is a regular part of the rotation will be big for the USC offense.
Backup quarterbacks: At this point, it's fairly obvious that neither Max Wittek nor Cody Kessler is going to separate himself distinctly from the other. They are both too good to let the other move ahead in the battle. But that doesn't mean that the competition doesn't merit monitoring. It remains to be seen how much time Barkley will get on Saturday, and when he's out of the game all eyes will be on how well the backups perform.
Tackles on both sides: In the trenches, things have been about as solid as they can be at the defensive end position and along the interior of the offensive line. But there has been plenty to watch at the opposite spots. Along the offensive line, the hole left by Matt Kalil at left tackle has been filled by Aundrey Walker. Though he hasn't been flawless this spring, he has done enough that Lane Kiffin feels comfortable leaving him unchallenged by right tackle Kevin Graf. On the defensive line, the interior is made up of George Uko at defensive tackle and a combination of J.R. Tavai and Antwaun Woods at nose tackle. Kiffin has said this spring that the line will be undersized up the middle, so it will be interesting to see how that trio holds up against what has become a very solid middle of the USC offensive line.
Pass rush: I’ll be looking at the pass rush and the defense of the run by the Trojans rebuilt front four, and the veteran offensive line’s ability to establish dominance through the run and protecting the quarterback. The Trojans defensive line is undersized but quick, and the offensive line has got some beef. We will be specifically looking how the combination of left tackle Aundrey Walker and right tackle Kevin Graf protect the quarterback and make a push against defensive ends Wes Horton and Devon Kennard.
Backfield: I’ll also be looking at the Trojans backfield, namely tailback Buck Allen and fullback Soma Vainuku. Allen continues to be intriguing, as he gets more carries and becomes more comfortable. At Tuesday’s practice, he gave continued glimpses of what might become a coming out party in the spring game. Vainuku, perhaps by default because of the Trojans extreme lack of tailback depth, is getting more carries and is looking good as a running fullback. The kid is a load and in practice he drags tacklers for extra yardage and is a threat as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
Backup quarterbacks: It would be hard to ignore the obvious backup quarterback battle between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Neither, thus far, has really distanced himself from the other. Unless somebody puts on a superior display in the Coliseum on Saturday, it’s doubtful that Lane Kiffin will name Matt Barkley’s backup after the final day of spring ball. As Trojans fans in attendance on Saturday will agree, Wittek and Kessler bring a different dimension to the game, much like that old Trojans tailback duo of Thunder and Lightening. Wittek is the classic NFL pocket quarterback, while Kessler is the controlled scrambler.