Friday, December 30, 2005
SMQ BOWL BLITZ: SIZING UP THE ROSE BOWL
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So, SMQ is not the only time-harried blogger falling short on bowl preview promptness; EDSBS lasted longer in its "Bowld Over" previews than SMQ's "Bowl Blitz" offerings, which fell short with the onset of an unexpectedly brutal and long work week, but the glut of games has left the venerable Mssrs. Swindle and Montana struggling to keep pace as well. Se la vie, when even the mediocre must be rewarded.
But who wants to mess with these December schlubs? Even the much-anticipated Miami-LSU contest is turning into a non-sensical massacre as SMQ types. Let's move on instead with Part Two of SMQ's ongoing preview of the only bowl game that really, really matters this season.Friday: When USC Has the Ball: Rushing Offense vs. Texas' Front Seven...Advantage: USC- - - - -
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: Passing Offense vs. Texas' Secondary and Pass Rush
It's virtually impossible to separate USC's pass offense from its run game, which each are enhanced by the success of the other to keep defensive heads spinning. The talent level is so high all the way around here that, for this offense, "balance" still allows for 316 passing yards per game, fifth best in the country, and the only 300-yard per game passing team that also averaged more than 200 per game rushing.
But despite the big passing numbers and the omnipresence of golden boy Matt Leinart, the Trojans' air attack enters the Rose Bowl with plenty of doubt as to how well it can match up with the Longhorns' stellar secondary, one that gave up fewer than five yards per attempt, mainly because USC's gaudy stats have consistently come at the expense of an assortment of the worst pass defenses in the nation. Average national rank of USC opponents' pass efficiency defense: 73.1.USC Passing Offense Against Top 40 Pass DefensesLeinart's most impressive games came early in the season (he topped 300 yards, usually by a lot, in six of SC's first eight games), and the relative dip late in the year (only one 300-yard game late in the season) wasn't due to any increased emphasis on the run: Leinart's completion percentage and yards per attempt were down over the last month of the year.
vs. Oregon (#28): 23-39, 315 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
vs. California (#27): 20-32, 246 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
Not that the decreased numbers were bad at all, though, and Leinart has been too steady for three years to question; he'll be fine to the extent that, even if Texas dictates the pass rush and locks down his wideouts, he's not going to be rattled or screw anything up. And if Texas doesn't get pressure, or can't contain SC's speedsters, it's going to be torched the same way Oklahoma was last year, when Leinart threw for 332 and five touchdowns.
Which shifts the onus to the Texas defense, the group that finished second in pass efficiency D and fifth in total pass yardage. Only one team, top-ranked passer Texas Tech, cleared the 200-yard barrier through the air.
Not bad, numbers-wise, but look closer: the average rank of Texas' opponents in passing offense? Including Tech - which threw for 369 against UT - 73.6. Among the remaining ten Longhorn opponents, only Colorado, at No. 44, displayed any sort of passing competence.
The key to the Longhorn pass rush will actually be the Longhorn's ability to stop the run; UT racked up 31 sacks and has a monster front four capable of bringing as much pressure as any line in the country, but USC's line (14 sacks allowed) requires a certain level of traction for teeing off that the defense can't get if it's forced to peek for handoffs with short yardage to go on second and third downs. It doesn't help, even if UT gets Leinart into a position that allows it to pin its ears back, that SC is lethal on all varieties of screens, either.
The statistical deficiencies of their opponents does not mean the experienced and talented members of the Texas secondary can't continue their season-long lockdown routine. Cedric Griffin, Michael Griffin, Michael Huff and Tarell Brown are good enough to hang with Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and Domonique Byrd - but not if their front seven teammates can't force an at least somewhat predictable, one-dimensional attack that leaves Matt Leinart vulnerable. If No. 11 has time, Texas is torched.
None of which even begins to account for the additional match-up problems caused by that guy Reggie Bush. SMQ would expect to see the Heisman winner all over the field Wednesday, motioning out of the backfield, lining up wide, maybe doing the obvious but still strangely effective direct snap/draw thing from the shotgun. If this aspect of the game - SC's awesome passing offense against UT's awesome passing defense - is the closest to a push, Bush is the X-factor that swings the advantage to the Trojans.
But wait, Texas can score, too, right? Uh, yeah. Next time, SMQ flips the tables to assess the Longhorns' scoring chances.
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