Hawkeye secondary prepares for USC passing game

This year’s Holiday Bowl matchup will feature USC’s stellar passing attack against Iowa’s stout defense.


Robert Gauthier

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) drops back to pass against UCLA during the third quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Los Angeles. USC won, 52-35. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

USC’s worst fears became real in its first game of the season.

In the second quarter of the Trojans’ 31-23 season-opening win over Fresno State, starting quarterback JT Daniels went down with a torn ACL.

Enter Kedon Slovis.

The freshman backup, who would eventually become the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, performed just fine in relief. He threw for 3,242 yards and 28 touchdowns with nine interceptions on 71.8 percent passing, leading the Trojans to a solid bowl game one season after a 5-7 record.

Combine that performance with Biletnikoff Award finalist Michael Pittman Jr., and it’s clear the Trojan air attack poses challenges for Iowa’s secondary.

“I know they’re a team that likes to throw the ball; they have a great passing attack,” Iowa safety Geno Stone said. “I see they threw for [515] yards last game… Just like Purdue, they’re going to throw the ball. It’s no secret.”

RELATED: By the Numbers: USC Trojans

Pittman ranks third in the nation with 95 receptions, sixth with 1,222 receiving yards, and tied for 13th with 11 touchdowns.

He alone is one of the key reasons head coach Clay Helton’s air-raid offense can succeed.

Pittman’s best game came against one of the best teams USC faced all season. When the Trojans took on No. 10 Utah on Sept. 20, Pittman hauled in 10 passes for 232 yards and a score.

The senior confirmed Tuesday on Twitter he will play in the Holiday Bowl, giving Iowa 220 pounds of problems to worry about.

“I heard he’s a Biletnikoff finalist, so going against him is definitely going to be a really big challenge,” Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “As a DB, you’re definitely excited — get your name out there facing a big name. We’re going to be practicing for these next couple of weeks just getting ready. A lot of teams are going to be taking rest, but we’re going to be practicing.”

USC’s offense hummed along even when Slovis wasn’t in.

Down to third-stringer Matt Fink against the Utes, the newly-anointed quarterback threw for 351 yards, three touchdowns, and a pick on 21-of-30 passing.

It didn’t matter who was in for the Trojans. That makes things even more scary for the Hawkeye defense.

Iowa ranks in the top 10 in the country in passing defense, giving up 184.2 yards per game. USC’s fifth-ranked passing offense puts up 335.9 yards a game.

After a rocky beginning to the season in the secondary that included injuries, Iowa has found balance in the back end.

Luckily for the Hawkeyes, they’ll have the “cash” personnel at their disposal.

Putting an extra defensive back on the field wasn’t always in Iowa’s repertoire, but it was added after to counter a bad loss to Wisconsin to keep heavy air attacks in check.

I think it must have been a year ago or a year and a half ago when we were facing Wisconsin, we made that transition,” Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “I think any time when we can match personnel, it’s going to be good for us. We’ve adapted pretty well, and I think that’s going to help us out in the future.”

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