Preview: Hyundai Sun Bowl

It's certainly not the bowl game everybody thought USC would wind up at, but the Trojans are in El Paso regardless hoping to cap a disappointing season on a high note with their first bowl game in two years. Monday's Hyundai Sun Bowl (11 a.m. PT, CBS) will be a fine sendoff for several seniors as well as a look at what's to come from some of the underclassmen.

It should be an interesting matchup too, as the Trojans face an option offense run by Georgia Tech.

 

[Related video: Trip to Haiti inspires USC football players]

 

The Rundown

Who: Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3 ACC) vs. USC (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
What: Hyundai Sun Bowl
What Hyundai is: A leading car manufacturer
When: Monday, Dec. 31. 11 a.m. PT
Where: El Paso, Texas
Where to watch: CBS with Verne Lundquist (play-by-play), Gary Danielson (analyst) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline)
Where to listen: ESPN Radio (710 AM in Los Angeles) and SIRIUS/XM satellite radio (Channel 91)

 

The Series

All-time record: USC 2-1
Last meeting: 1973 (USC won 23-6)

 

Stat matchup

Rushing offense
USC: 155 ypg (62nd in NCAA)   Georgia Tech: 312.54 ypg (4th)

Passing offense
USC: 296.92 ypg (25th)                Georgia Tech: 134.08 ypg (115th)

Scoring offense
USC: 34.q7 ppg (34th)                     Georgia Tech: 34.54 ppg (32nd)

Rushing defense
USC: 156.42 ypg (57th)                 Georgia Tech: 147.77 ypg (46th)

Scoring defense
24.58: 19.75 ppg (43rd)                   Georgia Tech: 29.92 ppg (77th)

 

How they got here

USC

Starting out as the preseason No. 1 team in the country, 2012 got off to a great start when Marqise Lee took the very first play from scrimmage to the house for a touchdown in a 49-10 romp over Hawaii in Trojans' opener. A sluggish cross-country trek to play Syracuse resulted in a win before recent nemesis Stanford turned up the pressure and held USC's high-flying offense to just 10 points in an upset win to start conference play.

The Trojans looked like they righted the ship in the middle of the season, winning four straight against Cal, Utah, Washington and Colorado. Lee busted out a Pac-12 record for receiving yardage in a crazy game down in Tuscon but it wasn't enough as USC lost at Arizona. The offense picked up the pace the next game out, against Oregon, but the defense couldn't keep up with the Ducks as the Trojans fell in a shootout at the Coliseum 62-51. Arizona State didn't put up much of a fight the next week as USC won 38-17 before heading across town to take on rival UCLA. Quarterback Matt Barkley was injured late in the game but by then it was too late as everything went the Bruins' way in an eventual 38-28 win for the boys in blue.

Max Wittek got his first start of his young career against Notre Dame in the final home game of the season and the Trojans nearly tripped up the No. 1 team in the country but couldn't quite get things done, falling 22-13 to the Irish and finishing the season at 7-5.

Georgia Tech

Things didn't start out the way the Yellow Jackets wanted in their opener as they fell 20-17 in overtime to Virginia Tech to get them behind the 8-ball in conference play from the start. They would bounce back against an FCS team in Presbyterian the next week however and continue the momentum by throttling Virginia after that. Another overtime game awaited Georgia Tech however, as they lost in a wild one late to Miami 42-36. That was the first of three straight losses for the team, including a puzzling home defeat to Middle Tennessee 49-28 and a shootout loss at the hands of Clemson. Boston College proved to be a good rebound win but the team turned around and was blownout by BYU the next week.

The Yellow Jackets set themselves up to go to the ACC Championship game with three straight wins over Maryland, North Carolina and Duke to capture the division title. They ended the year with losses to top 10 teams in Georgia and Florida State however to finish 6-7 and need a waiver to reach the Sun Bowl.

 

Coaching matchup

There are few coaching matchups this bowl season with more polar opposites than what the Sun Bowl has in Lane Kiffin and Paul Johnson. One loves to throw it, the other loves to run it. One uses a play card bigger than a Denny's menu, the other calls plays but has no play card. One is a longtime coaching veteran, the other is a youthful coaching veteran. Each loves offense but each goes about it in completely different fashions.

One side note in this game revolves around both teams' defensive coordinators. For the Trojans, this will be Monte Kiffin's final game with the team and likely last in college football as well. The Yellow Jackets fired their coordinator midseason and have been making due in the interm ever since.

 

Key players

USC

Wide receiver Marqise Lee – The first ever Biletnikoff Award winner at USC, Lee had a magical season that saw him set a host of school and Pac-12 records as a pass catcher. He reportedly injured himself at a practice in El Paso and his status for the game is to be determined.

Quarterback Max Wittek – For the second straight game, the Trojans will be without star signal-caller Matt Barkley. USC hasn't won a game without Barkley starting in the last four years so it will be up to heir-apparent Wittek to break that streak and capture a bowl win.

Defensive lineman Leonard Williams – Facing an option attack, defensive linemen are key and USC has a good one in the freshman, who was named a freshman All-American as well as the conference's freshman defensive player of the year.

Georgia Tech

Running back Orwin Smith – The primary ball carrier for the team, he's been sidelined the past month with an ankle injury and just returned to practice prior to the bowl game.

Quarterback Tevin Washington – The triggerman for the option attack, the senior is starting his last game for the program.

 

Stat pack

- USC is 1-2 in games on Dec. 31 and all of the games have been bowls played in Texas. USC is 9-3 overall in the Lone Star State.

- This is only the 10th bowl game the Trojans are playing in as an unranked team.

- USC has never won the Sun Bowl.

- The Trojans have the nation’s third highest bowl winning percentage (.667) and second most bowl wins all-time.

- All seven of USC’s 2012 victories have been by double digits.

 

Keys to the game

How motivated are the Trojans to play in this game? One wonders given the ending to the season for the No. 1 team in the country to start 2012. Facing an offense that can trip up even good defenses, a consistent, high-level effort will be needed by USC if they want to top Georgia Tech.

At the end of the day, the game will come down to who stops the run best. Of course the Yellow Jackets run the option, so getting out ahead and taking them out of their comfort zone will be key for a Trojans defense that hasn't lived up to expectations in big games. The offense will likely rely heavily on tailbacks Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd with Wittek under center once again so if the offensive line is opening up holes, it could be a long day for Lane Kiffin's squad. On paper USC is going against one of the worst defenses to make a bowl game but one never knows how they'll play with a long time to prepare and much more motivation than their opponent.

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