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Sunday Morning Quarterback

Sunday Morning Quarterback

Thursday, December 29, 2005

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Enough with the middling 7-5 bowls already - it's six days and counting to the season's much-anticipated, all-important, inevitably anticlimactic mythical championship affair, and on each day until that life-altering collision SMQ will offer his humble insight into aspects of this all-time wonderful cataclysm not involving uber nerd Matt Leinart's elementary school obesity/nearsightedness or Vince Young's childhood traumas (SMQ suffered a terrible bike wreck at age 7, too...*cue slow pan across bloody childhood photographs, poorly lit by randomly-popping flashbulbs*...but he never stopped believing that, one day, he could be a blogger...).

The voices on this matter are many, such as former Marshall and Georgia Head Coach Jim Donnan, a man who has been involved in college football longer than SMQ has been alive, who probed deep into his decades of in-the-fire gridiron experience to summon this epic wisdom, for pay, on the most anticipated championship game in history for the millions of diehard amateur researchers flocking to ESPN.com:
The buildup will be big, but I expect the Texas-USC matchup to live up to the hype. Texas' terrific defensive personnel will be tested by USC's powerful offense, but the Trojans haven't seen a mobile QB like Vince Young. It's appropriate that these two outstanding teams will play each other for the title.
Impossible as it may be to add to such definitive, deep-thinking, and well-researched dissection, SMQ will just have to go out and make plays by the following schedule:

Saturday: When USC Has the Ball: Passing Offense vs. Texas' Secondary and Pass Rush
Sunday: When Texas Has the Ball: Rushing Offense vs. USC's Front Seven
Monday: When Texas Has the Ball: Passing Offense vs. USC's Secondary and Pass Rush
Tuesday: Special Teams: The kicking game, return game and intagibles
Wednesday: Game day thoughts and predictions

TODAY: When USC Has the Ball: Rushing Offense vs. Texas' Front Seven
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Personnel-wise, hype has led us to believe USC could strike fear in the heart of the '85 Bears. Reggie Bush! LenDale White! Running behind Winston Justice! And Taitusi Lauitatsuasuai!

And the numbers bear out the Trojans' dominance on the ground: USC was the only team in the country that averaged more than six yards per carry, and they went way over that mark with a whopping 6.55 a pop. That's more than half a yard better than the number two per-carry team nationally (Cal, which gobbled up 5.84 per rush). If you remove the albatross that is Matt Leinart's QB-sneaking contribution (a mere 34 yards on 45 carries), actual running backs Bush, White and top backups Desmond Reed and Michael Coleman put up more than 7 ypc. The ground game was so dominant at times, has so much big play potential, that the Trojans erased a 24-3 halftime deficit to Arizona State not by throwing but by handing off to White and Bush, to the tune of 287 yards on 31 carries in the second half.

But that's the entire schedule, which included the porous like of Hawaii, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA. Against the best rushing defenses the Trojans faced:
USC Rushing Against Top 40 Run Defenses
vs. Arkansas (#36): 33 carries, 291 yards (8.8 per rush), 4 TD
vs. Oregon (#40): 48 carries, 278 yards (6.6 per rush), 3 TD
vs. Notre Dame (#26): 31 carries, 175 yards (5.6 per rush), 5 TD
vs. California (#25): 47 rushes, 188 yards (4 per rush), 5 TD
The touchdown numbers remain out of sight across the board, but the relatively mediocre outputs against the two best rushing defenses on the schedule, Notre Dame and Cal, give Texas more than a little hope of corralling BushCo West - at least to the extent that SC won't be able to dictate the play-calling schedule by being in second and short situations all night.

Texas, though, for all the recognition granted Rodrique Wright, Larry Dibbles, Aaron Harris and Tim Crowder, wasn't statistically as good as either the Irish or Bears, finishing 30th in rushing defense; that's from a team that was up by at least three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of nearly every game, too, so there wasn't much running going on by opposing offenses for long stretches. Plus, UT played Texas Tech (the Raiders ran 29 times, threw 64).

Again, let's look at Texas against the best rushing attacks it faced:

Texas Rush Defense Against Top 40 Rushing Offenses
vs. Ohio State (#30): 36 carries, 111 yards (2.9 per rush), 0 TD
vs. Rice (#11): 46 carries, 110 yards (2.4 per rush), 1 TD
vs. Missouri (#19): 47 carries, 139 yards (2.95 per rush), 1 TD
vs. Oklahoma (#33): 33 carries, 77 yards (2.3 per rush), 0 TD
vs. Texas A&M (#10): 52 carries, 277 yards (5.3 per rush), 3 TD
Good as those numbers look for the 'Horns on the whole the most telling stat may be the success of Texas A&M, which led Texas into the fourth quarter and wasn't forced to abandon the run and play crazy pass catch-up (the Rice game, too, may as well be discounted; the hapless Owls, of course, have big total yardage numbers by being the opposite of Texas Tech, running on almost every play). Those numbers also don't show the success of Oklahoma State, which also didn't fall behind immediately and rushed for 250 yards on 46 carries before succumbing to comeback mode.

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The Trojan backs aren't unstoppable, but they're about as close to it as any ground game has come since the 1995 Cornhuskers, and Texas hasn't shown itself to be invincible up front. Aside from the generally jaw-dropping talents of Bush and White - probably as good a tailback duo as there's ever been on one team, if not the best - the SC line is one of these massive, plie-driving groups that doesn't get as much credit as it should for being essentially a nasty, old-school style mauling unit that pushes folks around like, well, to return to the well, the old Nebraska lines. The Trojans have four starters over 300 pounds, including 365-pound monster beast Latusi; Texas' starting D-line isn't what anyone would call small - none of the first line of 'backers even comes in under 230 - but features only one 300-pounder (315-pound tackle Wright).

Ultimately, the Trojans have seen and conquered front sevens as good as the Longhorns', but the Texas defense can't say the same about a ground game like the one it'll face Wednesday. If it wants, SC should be able to grind away all night, if not breaking away then at least keeping UT on its heels - and off of Leinart, who's tough enough to reach when defenses know he's passing - by consistently producing short-yardage situations on second and third down. By the end of the night, long runs could be more forthcoming.

That's assuming the Trojans are up, of course, or at least in the game, which is not necessarily the case if the other parts of the machine don't match up as well.

Tomorrow: USC's Pass Offense vs. Texas' Secondary and Pass Rush.
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10:50 AM

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