What we learned: Dion Lewis needs help; so does USC’s defense

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 26:  Dion Lewis #28 of the Pittsburgh Panthers runs with the ball against the North Carolina Tar Heels during their game on December 26, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Now that college football is back and we no longer have to spend our time over-analyzing off-field issues, let’s turn our attention to over-analyzing what we’ve seen in one night the play on the field.

The first night of games was pretty vanilla — outside of Utah’s overtime win over Pittsburgh, as Anthony pointed out earlier — but it did give us a little bit of insight into a few teams, and what we could possibly expect to see from them down the road.

Let’s take a look at three things we learned on Thursday night:

1. USC’s sanctions have caught up with them quicker than one would have imagined: I figured it would take a year or two before the Trojans really started to feel the weight of the sanctions placed upon them by the NCAA in the offseason. But as it turns out, the non-contact practices new coach Lane Kiffin has had to run because of low numbers have already taken their toll. The USC defense looked awful last night against Hawaii, and you’d be hard pressed to convince me not tackling in practice didn’t have a big role in that. I have a hard time believing it’s the new gameplan, as Monte Kiffin is one of the best in the game when it comes to putting together a defense. And the Trojans have plenty of athletes who are capable of making plays, especially against a team like Hawaii. Sure, USC’s defense looked vulnerable at times last year as well, but this was almost difficult to watch. Granted, the Trojans offense looks legit, as Matt Barkley was brilliant, Ronald Johnson looks like he could be a monster, and Marc Tyler is a bonafide No. 1 back. All this without super-stud freshman Dillon Baxter on the field. Expect some crazy shootouts from the Trojans this season.

2. Dion Lewis isn’t going anywhere unless Tino Sunseri picks his game up: Lewis, a Heisman candidate in many circles, was held to 75 yards on 25 carries last night in Pittsburgh’s overtime loss to Utah. The three yards per carry average is the lowest in his short career at Pitt (his previous low was 3.4 a carry against Navy last year, and he averaged 5.5 a carry for the season). While I don’t want to take away from Utah’s defense, I think this might be a recurring problem for Lewis in big games until Sunseri proves he can stretch the field. The kid can throw the ball down the field, and he has a game-breaking receiver — Jon Baldwin — to throw to, but until he proves that he can stretch out defenses consistently and open the field up for the running game, Lewis is going to have to deal with a lot of defenders in the box. Part of that is Dave Wannstedt and the Pitt coaching staff trusting Sunseri to throw the ball down field and making the play calls to allow for that. Then again, he has to earn that trust.

3. Ohio State and Miami did nothing to temper excitement over next week’s matchup: Sure, they played Florida A&M and Marshall, but both teams were impressively dominant in their wins. It’s often disappointing when a team stumbles the week before a big matchup, taking the luster away from it before we’ve even finished reading the boxscore. But Miami’s Jacory Harris and Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor made sure that didn’t happen, and also gave us a nice little tease for what could be a very exciting quarterback duel in Columbus. Then again, it could end 6-3.

Paul Costanzo is a sports reporter for the Times Herald in Port Huron, Mich.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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