Friday, November 24, 2006

Poodle Party | by Jay

Six questions I have about Southern Cal:

1. With Chauncey Washington banged up, who's the main running back now for the Trojans? It's #25, freshman C.J. Gable. Gable picked up the slack from season-long starter Washington, who went down with a knee sprain against Oregon. Gable looked pretty nifty against Cal, getting 91 yards on 19 carries and ripping off a couple of nice runs and returns (Gable is also one of the kickoff returners for the Trojans). Washington is supposedly back in the fold for tomorrow, but don't be surprised to see the tall speedster Gable shoulder the rushing load.

2. What's up with Dwayne Jarrett? Jarrett suffered a mild concussion on a TD catch against Cal, but he says he's fine for Saturday. It bears mentioning that even if Jarrett isn't 100%, it doesn't really matter; when he missed the game against Washington State, Steve Smith calmly went out and caught 11 balls for 186 yards and two scores. Then there's third-option Patrick Turner, who put up over a hundred yards against Washington. The Trojan wide receiver position are like a crimson and gold hydra: cut one All-American down, and another grows in its place.

Southern Cal '06
at Arkansas W 50-14
Nebraska W 28-10
at Arizona W 20-3
at Washington State W 28-22
Washington W 26-20
Arizona State W 28-21
at Oregon State L 31-33
at Stanford W 42-0
Oregon W 35-10
California W 23-9
Notre Dame 8:00 pm
at UCLA 4:30 pm

3. I know the Trojans have played some close games. Seriously, how good are they this season? The nutshell answer: better than last year on defense, worse than last year on offense, and still one of the best teams in the country.

The offense is decidedly less explosive, especially in the running game. Comparing Trojan offenses between last year and this year:
Offense rush avg    rush td/g    pa avg     pass td/g
2006 4.83 1.50 7.37 2.30
2005 6.44 3.92 8.64 2.46
You don't have to scrape at those numbers too long to come up with an obvious conclusion: this isn't the same offense without Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Consider that last year they had 101 rushes of 10+ yards over 525 attempts (or roughly 20% of all carries going for 10 yards or more). This year it's 38 rushes of 10+ yards on 383 attempts (or less than 10%).

Scoring is way down too: 31.10 points per game in '06, vs 49.08 last year. But let's not minimize this: they're still dangerous. They still have the 19th-best offense in the country.

Defensively they're terrific; this might be Petey's best Trojan defense yet. Their scoring D is 11th-best in the country (14.2/game) as compared to 35th last year (22.8/game).
Defense   rush avg    rush td/g    pa avg     pass td/g
2006 3.02 0.50 5.97 0.80
2005 3.82 1.32 6.62 1.38
And here's something worrisome: they haven't given up more than 2 offensive touchdowns in a game all year long.

4. So who's good on defense? Three names you'll probably hear tomorrow: junior lineman Lawrence Jackson, who despite the low sack total, is one of the best defensive ends in the country; sophomore inside linebacker Rey Maualuga, who not only owns the police, but is playing so well he sent incumbent ILB and '05 defensive star Oscar Lua to the bench; and cornerback Terrell Thomas, who typically covers the opponent's top receiver and leads the young, impressive Trojan secondary in pass breakups with 10.

5. We know they're mortal, because they already have a loss. Go over that Oregon State game again. How did that happen? Yep, one of those Trojan near-losses finally turned into a near-win this season. Petey had a great quote after the loss to the Beavers: "We thought we were going to win all the way until we didn't."

Basically, the loss boils down to three fumbles, an interception and a punt return for a TD. That and Oregon State All-American kicker Alexis Serna, who won the Groza last year and is one of the frontrunners again this year. He hit four field goals, including a 53-yarder. The Trojans were down 33-10 as late as two minutes to go in the third quarter. Even so, Booty led a furious comeback and Southern Cal got within a two-point conversion of tying it.

Does this game hold any special insight for the Irish? I don't think so. We don't have that luxury of an All-American kicker, and we certainly can't bank on four turnovers going our way. We're going to have to get it done with offensive touchdowns against a stingy defense that is much improved from last year (see above). Charlie sez:
Weis dropped a subtle hint of how he was going to approach this game when he said he did not want to get into a track meet. "Ever hear of four corners?" he said, referring to a basketball formation designed to kill the clock. "Any team that has gotten into a track meet with them has lost. We don't want a 50-49 game."
To me, that's the biggest question of the game: can we move down the field and put the ball in the end zone more at least three times? If we can do that -- a tall order, as the Trojan D hasn't given up more than two in a game all year -- we've got a shot.

6. Finally, what in the hell is Desmond Reed still squawking about? What in the hell, indeed. He seems to know a lot about grass, though.