No. 15 USC hopes to get off to running start vs. Spartans

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kedon Slovis and Drake London are back leading Southern California as one of the top quarterback-receiver combinations in college football.

As good as they are, the No. 15 Trojans will need help from others if their offense is going to play at a level capable of winning the Pac-12 or reaching the College Football Playoff.

The first test of whether USC has put together a running game capable of complementing its powerful passing attack will come in the season opener Saturday against San Jose State.

“I mean, if you want to win a lot of games, especially later on in the season, got to be able to pass and run the ball,” said running back Keaontay Ingram, a transfer from Texas.

USC (5-1 last season) got to the Pac-12 title game with the worst rushing attack in the conference, ranking last in yards per attempt (3.17) and yards per game (97.33). The lack of balance finally caught up to the Trojans in the 31-24 loss to Oregon, as they averaged just 1.36 yards per carry on a night when Slovis couldn’t get on track.

In the hopes of addressing those issues, USC hired a new offensive line coach and brought in Ingram and TCU transfer Darwin Barlow to bolster the tailback position during the offseason.

Ingram, who rushed for 1,811 yards and 11 touchdowns in three seasons with the Longhorns, immediately recognized the determination from his new teammates to revive that part of the offense.

“Through the spring, through the fall, we’ve been attacking that left and right,” he said. “Attacking the small detail things, so I feel like the running game is gonna be something special this year.”

A strong rush defense helped San Jose State (1-0) win the Mountain West last season, allowing 0.5 yards per carry in the title game. They will have to be equally tenacious against the Trojans, a game that should carry special meaning for the sizable contingent of Spartans coming back home.

San Jose State coach Brent Brennan played receiver at UCLA from 1993-94, but his time at USC’s crosstown rival has no impact on the chance to deliver what would be a defining upset.

“I had a great experience at UCLA, but that’s a long time ago,” Brennan said. “Oh my God, is it a long time ago. And really, this is about our team and these players and what we’re doing to build a consistent winning football program at San Jose State.”

HIGH PRAISE

Despite throwing for 1,921 yards and 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions in six games in 2020, Slovis said he didn’t play as well as he did as a freshman. He attributed part of that decline to the lack of a conventional offseason that prevented Slovis from completely recovering mentally and physically from an elbow injury suffered in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.

Even with those struggles, Brennan came away impressed after breaking down the quarterback’s tape.

“I think Kedon Slovis is a top-10 pick in the NFL draft,” he said. “He’s fantastic. He can make every throw. He’s incredibly accurate.”

HOME SWEET HOME

USC will play in front of fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time since Nov. 23, 2019, when a crowd of 64,156 watched a 52-35 win over UCLA. However, they won’t get the usual game day experience. Tailgating on campus will not be allowed because of concerns about the delta variant.

NO HALL PASS

San Jose State defensive end Cade Hall was the only FBS player to get at least 10 sacks last season without playing in 10 games, earning him Mountain West defensive player of the year honors. Consistency defined Hall’s impressive junior season, as he had multiple sacks in four of the seven games in which he played.

ANTICIPATED DEBUT

Korey Foreman, the top defensive recruit in the country, is set to play his first game for the Trojans. Although he was limited in training camp because of elbow and groin injuries, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound edge rusher is expected to be used mostly on obvious passing downs where he can pressure the quarterback.

APPOINTMENT TV

The Spartans got a comfortable 45-14 win over Southern Utah last week as part of a limited slate of five FBS games.

“We watched them actually as a team a little bit just ’cause they were the game on (Saturday night),” Slovis said. “Really good, talented team. A lot of veteran guys, really excelled last year, so excited for the opportunity to play them.”

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