Friday, October 14, 2005

Bet with the Boi | by Jay

(We huddled with the esteemed Southern Cal blog BoiFromTroy this week for a little pre-game warmup. Here, the Boi talks about the Trojan juggernaut and answers five of our burning questions. And, be sure to check out Boi's site for our own responses. )

Hi, BGS! Here's the skinny:

When USC has the ball… Even if you don’t believe the hype about USC having the OMG Greatest. Offense. Ever. Notre Dame fans should be cautioned to buy in to it. Statistics don’t lie…and if you want to know more, check out this from Heismanpundit.

USC has just about the most balanced and prolific offensive attack I can remember seeing. They’ve been racking up 350 yards per game through the air and more than 200 yards per game on the ground—and their bench is as deep as the Marianas Trench.

I really do not need to sing the virtues of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush or Lendale White—because each of them is a playmaker who can easily turn into a game breaker in a matter of seconds. But be warned that the USC offense is more than just this three-headed beast. In the Orange Bowl last January, Oklahoma shifted two and sometimes three players to cover Reggie Bush whenever he went into motion—leaving Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and DavidKirtman open at their own peril.

But not everything is rosy in the post-Norm Chow era.

It has been years since the USC team has shown up and played four full quarters of football. Either the game is functionally over by the third quarter or the team does not show up mentally in the first quarter and they have to play catch-up the rest of the game. In fact, the last four-full-quarters game I can remember was USC-Notre Dame 2002 when Carson Palmer made his definitive Heisman Trophy Statement…and if I recall correctly, the Trojans won that one by 31.

Another worry many Trojans are beginning to have about the new offensive coordinators is that they are too eager to go for the long-ball before setting it up with shorter plays first. Under Norm Chow, USC would often go for 2- and 3-yard passes, run up the middle for a few yards, draw defenses in closer before going for the 40-yard strike. Somehow, Kiffin and Sarkasian think they can just throw it long without doing the dirty work. As we’ve seen against Oregon and Arizona State, that dog don’t hunt every week.

When Notre Dame Has the Ball… The USC team under Pete Carroll has been renowned for its defenses—leading the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense. But 2005 has been not so good for the Men of Troy. The off-season saw the Trojans losing four defensive starters to the NFL (Cody, Patterson, Tatupu, Grootegood), and September saw them lose key starters Darnell Bing and Dallas Sartz.

Against Arkansas and Hawaii, the USC Defense looked suspect, but when the Trojans’ backs were against the wall in Eugene and Tempe, it was the Trojan D that kept them in the game until the offense got clicking. Kellen Clemens and Sam Keller each entered their games against USC as the nation’stop-rated quarterbacks and neither got more than 200 yards passing against the Trojans.

The statistics can be a bit misleading…USC has given up 246 yards a game passing on 11 yards per catch—so you’d think Brady Quinn might have a good day. But not so fast! USC has a bend-but-don’t break defense that might let you run wild between the 20’s before shutting down opponents in the redzone…

USC Special Teams. For the past two years, the National Champions’ woes were on field goals and extra points—one of which was the difference against Cal two years ago in the Trojan’s only loss since September 2002. This year, Mario Danelo is 36-36 on PATs, but Pete Carroll does not trust him to kick a field goal, and would prefer going for it on 4th-and-7 instead of going for 3…

Some people think this may be a fatal flaw. However, even worse is the punting situation. Although Tom Malone has not been asked to punt much this year, that is probably a good thing. While he was capable of a 70-yard punt last year, Tom “The Bomb” Malone is continuing to recover from a hip injury and has been inconsistent at best so far…but not as bad as…

The Trojan kickoff coverage! Freshman K Troy Van Blarcom is about 5 yards short of being able to put the ball in the end zone—and the team’s coverage this year reminds me of 2002 when Pete Carroll at one point opted to just kick the ball out of bounds so the opponent would get the ball at the 35. Don’t be surprised if this tactic isn’t seriously considered. With the exception of Reggie Bush and Desmond Reed on return duties, let’s just call this squad the “Special Needs Team” for USC.

Now to your questions...

1. Who do you think is the USC MVP so far... Leinart, Bush, or White?

Since Leinart, White and Bush are each having their best seasons ever, it is hard to tell. The argument for LenDale White is that he has been the clutch player in road games against Oregon and Arizona State who has performed when needed. Leinart and Bush have racked up alot of their gaudy numbers when they were not needed. Nonetheless, Leinart is steering the ship and has to distribute the ball among 5 players who could be considered Heisman candidates in any other program--and for keeping the boat afloat, Matt gets my vote.

2. What unheralded USC player (i.e. not named Leinart, Bush, White, orJarrett) do you think will have the biggest impact on the game on Saturday?

I think Darnell Bing will have the greatest impact on Saturday, and he isprobably the most under-rated on the USC squad (which is saying something given as heralded as he is!) Bing made the play against Hawaii which kept USC from going down early and had a string of four consecutive plays against Oregon where he broke up passes to prevent a comeback bid. Count on Bing to be the counterweight to Jeff Samardzija and to take advantage of any Chad Henne-like errant passes Brady Quinn might throw.

3. Is the rap on the SC corners/secondary warrented in your opinion, or are the final yardage totals a bit deceiving due to yards gained in garbage time?

I have said since September 3 that the USC defense, as a whole, is suspect. When a team has 80 yards in front of them, USC too often gives them 60--but in the Red Zone, the Men of Troy consistently step up. Brady Quinn is the third heralded signal caller the Trojans face this year. Oregon's Kellen Clemens came into the USC game leading the nation in passing yards and got less than 200 through the air. Arizona State's Sam Keller was one of the nation's best in passing efficiency and gave up 5 INTs to USC.

4. What worries you about this Irish team? Anything?

#83 and #9 worry me...but I cannot spell 83's name and don't know #9's. Jeff What's-his-face is a big guy who will be tough to defend for anyone but Darnell Bing...and #9 has been a playmaker and should be able to eliminate at least one option for Leinart regularly.

5. What will the Trojan Nation do if the Irish somehow win the game?

Become fans of Texas Tech, Miami, and Auburn.

(Thanks to BoiFromTroy for the exchange. And, we've got a little wager going: loser has to post a picture of the winner's choosing come Monday morning. Cheer, Cheer and Fight On!)