Welcome back, football. We missed you. Though reminders of this tumultuous offseason still scroll across the ticker (Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus' suspension), at least we can finally watch some live action.
From Terrelle Pryor to Dion Lewis to Matt Barkley, we don't even have to wait for Saturday to get our first glimpse of some A-listers..
• South Carolina's offense is in the zone. The 2010 season is not yet one night old, and already it's produced a new wrinkle: South Carolina, at long last, may finally have an offense.
Oft-maligned quarterback Stephen Garcia performed splendidly in a 41-13 rout of Southern Miss (RECAP | BOX), rushing head-first for two touchdowns and throwing for 195 yards, but the biggest difference from a year ago (when the Gamecocks memorably scored seven points in both their opener and their bowl game) is the playmakers around them -- and the way Steve Spurrier is utilizing them.
On one second-quarter drive, sleek freshman receiver Ace Sanders (5-foot-7, 166 pounds) took a reverse and broke 52 yards. Two plays later, another frosh, highly touted tailback Marcus Lattimore, scored his first of two touchdowns. Notably, it came on a zone-read, shotgun handoff by Garcia. On a subsequent drive, sophomore cornerback Stephon Gilmore lined up as a Wildcat quarterback.
Spurrier, one of the sport's passing innovators 20 years ago, spent the offseason incorporating some of the zone-running schemes popularized by Rich Rodriguez, Chip Kelly and others over the past decade. They only make a difference, however, if you've got some playmakers like Sanders, Lattimore and sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffrey. South Carolina racked up more than 200 yards on the ground in the first three quarters.
Running the ball on Southern Miss is one thing. We'll see next week whether Spurrier's guys can find the same holes against an SEC defense (Georgia's).
• USC still needs a defense. What did we learn from Lane Kiffin's debut as USCs head coach in a 49-36 victory at Hawaii (RECAP | BOX)? He doesn't like kicking extra points (The Trojans went for two after their first three touchdowns). He doesn't like halftime reporters asking what the opponent has figured out. (Nothing, he said, before hurrying away from Shelly Smith.)
His tutelage of quarterback Matt Barkley appears to be paying off. The sophomore did anything and everything he wanted against the Warriors helpless defense (reminiscent of Jimmy Clausen's Hawaii Bowl performance a couple years back.) He completed 15 of 19 throws for 190 yards and four touchdowns before halftime, hooking up with both veterans (seniors Ronald Johnson and David Aubserry) and newbies (freshman Robert Woods). USC's precise, play-action offense looked a lot more like it did during the Trojans 2002-08 heyday than last year, under short-lived coordinator Jeremy Bates.
But mostly, we learned Kiffin's defensive masterminds (father Monte and coordinator Ed Orgeron) have their work cut out. Hawaii's Run-and-Shoot offense causes headaches for many, but USC got almost no pressure on elusive quarterback Bryant Moniz on four first-half scoring drives. The Trojans rebuilding secondary did a fairly decent job in coverage (considering how may passes they had to defend) but often missed tackles when Moniz or Warriors receivers did have the ball. (Note that USC refrained from tackling in preseason camp to avoid injuries.) The D-line racked up penalties. Heck, even Hawaii's backup quarterback Shane Austin led two 80+-yard scoring drives. The Warriors finished with 588 yards. The Trojans defense didn't look any stingier than they did during last year's Oregon or Stanford debacles.
It's tough to read too much into either sides performance due to the unusual nature of playing Hawaii. That being said, the Warriors last game before this one was a 51-10 loss to Wisconsin. When USC was at its peak under Pete Carroll in 2005, it won 63-17 in Honolulu. If you're a Top 15-caliber team, you're supposed to crush Hawaii. These Trojans arent there yet.
•Terrelle Pryor showed no rust. The Ohio State quarterback picked up where he left off in Pasadena, ripping Marshall for 247 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-25 attempts as the Bucks cruised 45-7 (RECAP | BOX). The junior looks like he's got a little more zip on his passes, a little more poise in the pocket, but he still makes you nervous at times. Twice in the early stages Thursday night, he forced deep throws into coverage, and he was fortunate not to get picked on either. He won't get away with the same thing next week against Miami.
Meanwhile, Pryor's counterpart in that game, Miami's Jacory Harris, got his season off to a resplendent start. Harris was 13-of-16 for 216 yards and three touchdowns (all to Leonard Hankerson) before sitting out the second half of a 45-0 rout of Florida A&M (RECAP | BOX). It should be a fun night in the Horseshoe watching those two go head to head next Saturday.