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John Robinson
The Trojans finished last season on a high note that could provide a springboard of momentum into the 1997 campaign: a thrilling 27-20 overtime victory over Notre Dame.

ON OFFENSE: Starters return at eight offensive positions in 1997: tailback Washington, co-starting fullbacks Sermons and Woods, guards Brymer and Claridge, tackles Bowen and Douglas, center Himebauch, and co-starting wide receivers Bastianelli and Miller. Troy’s leading rushers from both 1995 and 1996 are back (plus the top four ground gainers from last fall), as are players who caught 62 percent of USC’s passes in 1996.
Last season’s entire offensive line returns (plus a 1995 starter). But the quarterback and tight end will be playing regularly for the first time. The Trojans will look to be more potent and balanced offensively than in 1996, when they averaged 362.7 total yards (just 114.0 rushing to go with a 24th-best-in-the-nation 248.7 passing) and 27.1 points per game. Directing the offense will be new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson.
“Overall, our offense has more depth and experience than we had in 1996,” says Coach John Robinson. “But we can’t put the burden of success on any one player. Our offensive leadership has to come from every position.
“We must be balanced, be able to run the ball and be efficient offensively. Any offensive explosiveness has to develop as the season goes on. We must concentrate on being solid throughout the offensive unit and proceed from there. Any offensive changes this year will come in the passing game. The running game will be the same style. We’ll work on varying the offensive formations.”

Travis Claridge

ON DEFENSE: Six starters – cornerbacks McCutcheon and Kelly, linebackers Claiborne, Cusano and Pearsall, and end Perry – return on defense in 1997 (although Pearsall likely will miss the season with a knee injury). But three-fourths of the defensive line will be new. The Trojans were second in the Pac-10 in total defense in 1996, surrendering just 363.9 total yards per game (173.2 on the ground and 190.8 through the air), as well as second in pass efficiency defense (106.81) and fourth in scoring defense (22.3). USC allowed only 11 TD passes in 1996 after giving up just six in 1995. Expect the Trojans to use multiple defensive formations in 1997.
“We’ll be faster, but I’m concerned about the overall depth of our defense, particularly on the line,” says Coach John Robinson. “We’ll miss Knight, Russell and Keneley, three outstanding players. We have players capable of stepping up and filling those voids, but our defensive success will depend on their improvement. Our strength defensively should be at cornerback and linebacker. This year, we’ll use the defensive line to occupy the passer and ask the linebackers to be more aggressive.”

Daylon McCutcheon: USC returns 75 players from 1996, along with a Top 10-ranked recruiting class of 18 high schoolers and two junior college transfers (including 16 All-Americans).

ONSPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams could be a strength for the 1997 Trojans, as almost everyone – the punter and placekick holder (Wren), kicker (Abrams) and kick/punt returners (Soward, Morton and Parker) – returns from last fall.
Still, Coach John Robinson believes that “our play in this area must improve. Last year, we had some outstanding performances on special teams and we had some awful performances. We must level that out. Our placekicking, in particular, was a mixed bag last year. We have good potential there, but we just need to realize it. I feel real good about our punting and our returners, though. They’re some of the best in the game.”
Indeed, the Trojans had seven kicks and one punt blocked and allowed one scoring kickoff return in 1996. On the other hand, USC blocked one kick and three punts (one blocked punt went for a TD) and ran back two kickoffs for touchdowns last fall.

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