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Iowa Football: Behind Enemy Lines With the USC Trojans

The Hawkeyes and Trojans face off for the first time in 16 years. Will this matchup end differently?

Can Iowa stop the USC passing attack?
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the final time in the 2019 season, the Iowa Hawkeyes will take the field tomorrow night as they face off with the USC Trojans in the Holiday Bowl. It will be the first meeting between the two programs since USC took down Iowa 38-17 in the 2003 Orange Bowl and just the tenth time ever. The Trojans hold a 7-2 advantage in the series all-time.

Iowa enters the matchup looking for their tenth win of the season. It would mark the sixth time under Ferentz the Hawkeyes have gotten to double digits in the win column. They’ll be taking on the 22nd ranked Trojans, who enter the matchup 8-4. USC’s four losses have largely come against solid competition with three of the four at the hands of ranked opponents.

To better understand what to expect from the Trojans, we went behind enemy lines to get the inside scoop from Matt Lowry of Conquest Chronicles, SB Nation’s home for the USC Trojans. Here’s what he had to say.

BHGP: It’s been a while since Iowa and USC have faced off. First, can you confirm Carson Palmer and Troy Polamalu have run out of eligibility and will not be suiting up? And more seriously, what can you tell us about this roster vs. what college football fans have grown to know and love (ok probably hate) about the Trojans?

CC: I can confirm that they sadly are out of eligibility and well past their time of playing football at this moment haha. The thing about this roster compared to years past is actually no different from a talent stand point. In some essence they’re a very young team that will only get better, depending on coaching.

BHGP: There’s been plenty made of the current coaching situation at USC, what’s the general sentiment among the fanbase as it relates to Clay Helton and this season?

CC: A lot of fans are very unhappy with the decision to keep Helton. Look, you have to give him some credit for this season. The team went 8-4 and ended the regular season ranked. That’s a MAJOR improvement from last year. However, if you want to see why fans are frustrated with Helton and want him gone then look at the those 4 losses and look at HOW they lost. Lack of adjustments and preparation. Also recruiting has really tanked the last two years under Clay.

BHGP: This Iowa team is built around its defense, but the Hawkeyes have certainly not faced many, if any, WR groups like the Trojans boast. What should Iowa fans expect from the USC passing game?

CC: USC’s passing game is built with a lot of the short game. They’re not really running routes, but to an open area. The thing with defensive coordinators is that they have to take their pick on who to contain because all of the USC receivers are capable of having a big game. Also Kedon Slovis has improved and done a much better job taking care of the ball. Thing is that this will be the best defense this Trojans team has seen since the Utah/Washington games.

BHGP: On the flip side, USC has four different guys with at least 300 rushing yards on the year. What should Iowa fans look for in the running game?

CC: USC will bring a different mix of Vavae Malepeai, which is a hard nosed downhill run between the tackles. Something that Iowa has seen with a couple of teams. Then there’s Steven Carr which is a shifty and fast running back. They’re both effective when healthy. The wild card in the whole thing is Markese Stepp. Right now the status on him is up in the air with him returning from surgery. If he’s a full go for the Holiday Bowl then look for him to bring another physical style of football. He currently averages 6.4 yards per carry which says a lot there.

BHGP: On the defensive side of the ball, this Iowa offense has had an up and down year, particularly when facing opponents who get pressure on Nate Stanley. How should we expect this Trojan defense to attack the Hawkeye offense?

CC: That’s the biggest question USC fans are asking right now because it’s a tale of two teams. When Clancy Pendergast is aggressive with his defensive play calling then they can create a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The issue is that he goes away from it too fast. Drake Jackson, Christian Rector, and Jay Tufele on the line could present troubles in the pass rush department. I think the run defense is what will worry me. USC has struggled against the run and mobile quarterbacks although the Trojans have been better lately.

BHGP: What’s the one matchup you feel best about as a USC fan?

CC: I feel good about the USC passing offense against the Iowa defense. The poise of Slovis the last few games and the growth of the USC wide receivers into Graham Harrell’s scheme has really shown that this is a deadly offense. It’s ranked as one of the best for a reason. I’m interested to see how Iowa’s defense performs against the air raid.

BHGP: Which one has you most worried?Iowa’s run game vs the USC defense.

CC: If there’s one thing that has haunted the Trojans this season that’s defending the run.

BHGP: Be honest, what was the first thing you though of when you heard USC was facing off with the Iowa Hawkeyes in a the Holiday Bowl?

CC: The first thing that came to mind is the fans. A few years ago when Iowa was in the Rose Bowl I remember seeing a large amount of Hawkeye fans in Downtown LA. They travel well and will make plenty of noise. This game has the same feeling as the 2015 Holiday Bowl when they played Wisconsin. In terms of the team, the first thing I thought was the inconsistency from the last couple of games that I’ve seen. I think what many USC fans don’t notice is that three of the Hawkeyes losses were by a combined 14 points against Top 15 teams. It wasn’t like they were blown out in games. They competed. That’s what Iowa does.

BHGP: Alright, prediction time. The line in eastern Iowa is Iowa -2 with an over/under at 52. Can the Hawkeyes cover? Do the Trojans win this one outright? What’s your prediction for Friday night?

CC: I think USC wins this outright. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think many teams on Iowa’s schedule run an air raid scheme with the amount of talent that the Trojans have. Right now everything is clicking for the Trojans on that side of the ball. I see this being a close and hard fought game, but I think the SC offense will be too much for the Hawkeyes to keep up. I have it 38-24 Trojans.

So there you have it. Here’s hoping Matt is completely wrong.

A huge thank you to Matt Lowry and all of Conquest Chronicles for taking the time to help us get a look at USC, especially on a holiday-shortened week. Be sure to follow Matt @MattALowry and Conquest Chronicles @CChroniclesSBN. They have plenty of Holiday Bowl content up this week, including a full preview that’s worth a look.

Go Hawks!