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USC-Hawaii: How they match up

USC FOOTBALL

Coach Lane Kiffin has kept everyone guessing about his quarterback situation before the opener.

August 28, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • USC Coach Lane Kiffin still hasn't let whether it will be Max Wittek, left, or Cody Kessler, right, playing quarterback for the Trojans when they face Hawaii on Thursday.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin still hasn't let whether it will be Max Wittek,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

USC is opening against Hawaii for the third time in Coach Lane Kiffin's tenure. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the game's matchups and story lines:

New eras

Kiffin kept reporters, quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler and the rest of his players guessing by saying that he anticipated playing both quarterbacks against Hawaii.

Wittek played in five games last season, including starts in place of injured four-year starter Matt Barkley against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Wittek completed 36 of 69 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns, with five interceptions.

Kessler played in 10 games, mainly as a holder for kicks, but he took snaps at quarterback in only two and completed two passes against Colorado.

Taylor Graham, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound transfer from Ohio State, will start at quarterback for Hawaii. A fourth-year junior, he has not started a game since high school. Last season, Hawaii ranked 118th among 120 major-college teams in total offense. Hawaii Coach Norm Chow, the former USC offensive coordinator, hired Aaron Price as coordinator in February and then dismissed him on the eve of training camp.

On the run

USC tailback Silas Redd has more yards rushing than any active major-college running back, but he stayed home in Los Angeles to rehabilitate a surgically repaired knee. Junior D.J. Morgan also did not make the trip because of injury.

Third-year sophomore Tre Madden, at 6 feet 1 and 220 pounds, could be a strong runner between the tackles and is also a threat in the wildcat formation. Freshman Justin Davis is a breakaway threat. Sophomore Buck Allen was the workhorse during training camp and he is the Trojans' most experienced tailback — with six career carries.

Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns, probably will sit out because of a foot injury. Freshman Aofaga Wily could start.

Happy returns

The last time USC was at Aloha Stadium, former receiver Ronald Johnson caught three touchdown passes and returned a punt for a touchdown.

Trojans All-American Marqise Lee is capable of a similar start. In last season's opener against Hawaii at the Coliseum, he caught a short pass on the first play and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown. He also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Lee, sophomore Nelson Agholor and freshman Darreus Rogers give the Trojans a potentially dynamic receiving trio.

Hawaii's Billy Ray Stutzmann caught a team-best 35 passes last season, but he was involved in a car accident before training camp and has not been cleared to play. Chris Gant, a senior from Long Beach, caught 22 passes. Scott Harding, a junior from Australia, caught 20.

Hawaii receivers will go up against Trojans cornerbacks who struggled during spring practice and training camp. Sophomore Kevon Seymour, junior Anthony Brown and senior Torin Harris have plenty to prove.

Line them up

USC's offensive line went through a major reshuffle — and that was before training-camp injuries shuffled it again.

Redshirt freshman Chad Wheeler displaced Aundrey Walker at left tackle, putting Walker in competition with John Martinez at right guard. Marcus Martin is the center, Max Tuerk the left guard, and Kevin Graf will start for the third season at right tackle.

End Tavita Woodard and linebacker Art Laurel lead Hawaii's defensive front.

Hawaii's offensive line gave up more than three sacks a game last season. The Warriors will be under pressure to handle a Trojans front that includes tackle George Uko, end Leonard Williams and hybrid linebacker Devon Kennard. Linebacker Morgan Breslin, who had a team-best 13 sacks last season, made the trip but has a foot injury.

Special teams

USC kicker Andre Heidari made 10 of 16 field-goal attempts in 2012, struggling for consistency after early-season knee surgery. The Trojans are hoping he recaptures his freshman form, when he made 15 of 17.

Kris Albarado succeeds Kyle Negrete as the Trojans' punter.

Lee averaged 28.3 yards per kickoff return last season. He also will return punts.

Tyler Hadden, a junior from Whittier, converted 13 of 21 field-goal attempts for Hawaii last season. Ruben Guzman, a transfer from Riverside City College, is the punter.

Gant returns kickoffs, Harding punts.

Rivalry renewed

Kiffin and Chow, who had a strained relationship as members of Pete Carroll's original USC staff, both have long claimed that coaching against the other is no big deal.

Time heals old wounds, but do all scars disappear?

For Chow, knocking off 231/2 -point favorite USC and the embattled Kiffin would be a signature victory.

For Kiffin, a resounding win would further turn up the heat on Chow.

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

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