Hyundai Sun Bowl preview


USC (7-5, 5-4) versus Georgia Tech (6-7, 5-3)

Where: El Paso, Texas

When: Monday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m. ET


Pivotal matchup:

USC defense versus Georgia Tech run game

It’s no secret that the Trojans' defense has struggled in 2012 against variations of the option, and the Yellow Jackets will bring their version with a run-based triple option attack that has seen a lot of success this season.

Georgia Tech ran the ball for 312.5 yards per game in 2012, a mark that was No. 4 overall nationally. They are led by a dynamic quarterback in senior Tevin Washington, who serves as a multipurpose threat with 19 rushing touchdowns and more than 1,100 passing yards. The Yellow Jackets also feature an experienced offensive line, led by All-ACC selection Omoregie Uzzi at right guard.

This will be Monte Kiffin's final game as USC defensive coordinator, and it figures that it would come against an option team, as spread option teams have given Kiffin’s defensive schemes the most problems this season. Kiffin might be able to reach deep into his coaching bag of tricks against the triple option, as he had experience going up against similar offenses in his time at Nebraska in the 1970s.

The play of USC's front seven will be critical, particularly defensive ends Wes Horton and Morgan Breslin. It will be their job to help contain the option attack to the inside, something the Trojans did not do against Oregon, when the Ducks put up 426 yards on the ground.

Up-and-comers to watch:

USC QB Max Wittek: Wittek will be making his second start for the Trojans in place of the injured Matt Barkley. His first appearance, in the regular season finale against Notre Dame, gave a lot of hope for the future as he looks to secure the starting job for the 2013 season. Wittek completed 14 of 23 passes against the top-ranked Irish for 186 yards and a touchdown, along with two interceptions. But more than just his actual numbers, it was his strong arm and on-field savvy that has USC fans looking forward to seeing more from Wittek in the bowl game.

Georgia Tech LB Jabari Hunt-Days: Hunt-Days is a redshirt freshman who got the start in the season opener due to a suspension to Daniel Drummond, and he never relinquished the job. He ended the season tied for third on the team with 74 tackles to go along with 4.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception. Hunt-Days was named a freshman All-American for his efforts, and his play was a big part of the improved Tech defense over the second half of the season. As a side note, the top four tacklers from the Tech defense all return next seasons.

Recruits to impress:

S Leon McQuay III: Both the Trojans and Yellow Jackets have done a good job of filling their available spots early, and there aren’t a whole lot of targets remaining.

One of the players USC would still like to reel in is McQuay, a 6-foot-2, 183-pound star from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood. McQuay took a visit to the USC campus earlier this month and will look to make his announcement at the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4. In addition to the Trojans, McQuay is also considering Michigan, Florida State, Vanderbilt and Oregon. The potential addition of McQuay would fill a spot at safety that had once been occupied by Max Redfield of Mission Viejo (Calif.), who is now rumored to be leaning toward Notre Dame.

RB Travis Custis: The most important recruiting angle for Georgia Tech might simply be holding on to one of its existing verbals, as Custis (Lovejoy, Ga./Lovejoy) is continuing to hear from other schools such as Wisconsin and Arkansas, along with recent interest from Alabama. Custis (6-foot, 207 pounds) gave a verbal commitment to Tech last April and then went out and ran for 2,058 yards and 35 touchdowns while leading his team to the state title game for the second straight season. With their run-dominated offense, the ability to keep Custis in the fold will be as important as any uncommitted prospect the Yellow Jackets could look to impress in this game.