September 21, 2006
USC Preview: Defense
This upcoming Saturday Arizona will face one of the best schools in the country in USC, and while the team's offense is dynamic, its defense is nothing to scoff at. Through two games this season USC has only given up 24 total points including only 10 to Nebraska.
The Trojans have limited opponents to an average of only 99 yards per game on the ground and only 150 yards in the air. While the Trojans secondary is supposed to be the young and inexperienced part of the defense, it has yet to give up a passing touchdown this season.
With USC everything starts with talent. It has an extremely young defense and will most likely only start one senior in linebacker Dallas Sartz this upcoming Saturday. However, the team is loaded top to bottom with high school All-Americans and guys that are third on the depth chart would most likely start for most Pac-10 schools.
USC runs an unusual college formation in the 3-4. The Trojans have more talent at linebacker than anywhere else on the field and thus having four out on the field at once allows USC to play its talent while also providing additional coverage against the pass.
The four starting linebackers include Sartz (6-5 235 lbs.), Brian Cushing (6-4, 240 lbs.), Rey Maualuga (6-3, 250 lbs.) and Keith Rivers (6-3, 230 lbs.). In order to show the talent on USC, both Maualuga and Rivers were rated the number one linebacker in their respective classes.
Cushing and Maualuga both contributed early last season as true freshmen, displaying their immense talent and due to the 3-4, both look to be on the field a lot this season.
Maualuga, despite only being a sophomore, is one of the fiercest and most intimidating players in the Pac-10. Through two games he has amassed 17 tackles including 11 against Nebraska. He plays sideline to sideline and is a devastating hitter.
Cushing has ten tackles on the season including 1.5 for a loss and one quarterback hurry. Pound for pound he is an extremely fast linebacker and if Arizona's running backs don't pick up their blocks Cushing could be in the backfield all day. Sartz is fourth on the team in tackles so far this season with nine and also has forced one fumble this season.
Keith Rivers was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week after USC's first game against Arkansas. He led the team with eight tackles, had one forced fumble and recovered another fumble. He is yet another all-star in the Trojan linebacking corps and Arizona will have to be conscious of them all or one of them will have a big night.
The defensive line for the Trojans boast one of the best rush ends in the country in 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior Lawrence Jackson. Jackson is an All-American candidate who last season recorded 10 sacks, six pass break-ups and four forced fumbles.
He is stronger than a lot of offensive linemen and Arizona is going to have to put together a smart game plan if it wants to take Jackson out of the game. He will most likely have to be double teamed all game signifying the importance of Arizona's backfield picking up its blocks.
The other two defensive linemen that will see extended time look to be 6-foot-5, 280-pound junior Chris Barrett and 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore Fili Moala. Both will cause pressure on the Arizona line all game and despite only having three defensive linemen, this could be one of the Wildcats offensive line's toughest tasks of the year.
The secondary is the area that USC seems most vulnerable, and it is not due to a lack of talent but rather a lack of experience. USC only returned one starter from last season's secondary in Josh Pinkard, who will not be playing against Arizona. Fellow safety starter Kevin Ellison is also questionable to play this Saturday.
Taking the place of experience will be five-star 2006 recruit and number two overall athlete Taylor Mays and the number two overall safety recruit in 2006, Antwine Perez. Although these two are immensely talented, if Arizona wants to come out firing it would be wise to attack the freshmen safeties in hopes that their youth shows more than their talent.
Starting cornerback Kevin Thomas is still rehabbing an ankle but may play sparingly this Saturday. Against Arizona, Cary Harris and Terrell Thomas will start in the young secondary. Both cornerbacks are talented and each has recorded an interception on the year.
|Arizona's 5 Keys to |
|1. No turnovers: |
Arizona will have to play nearly flawless to stay in this game and turnovers will put them in a hole real quick.
|2. Jennings establishes himself: |
Chris Jennings will need to show that he didn't do well last week because of the competition, but rather because he is a great running back.
|3. Tuitama: |
Willie Tuitama will need to show he is back to his old self and be a threat every time he touches the ball similar to last season.
|4. Running backs and H-backs picking up blocks: |
USC will blitz early and often and there will be no room for error for Arizona in missing its blocks.
|5. Special teams play: USC is a great defensive team that will force a lot of three-and-outs. Nick Folk will need to punt well to keep USC out of Arizona territory. |
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