Thursday, September 25, 2008

There goes the last chance to beat the Trojans - Thanks Beavers

Need your dream season ruined? Give us a call.

At least that was my first impression when I watched this game. USC has often started off conference play flat, but then locks down the rest of the season. But this game was different. It started out like a typical USC early season game - mistakes, turnovers, and quick scores by the opponent. But it didn't finish that way.

For the first time since the 2004 game versus Cal, I saw USC's front line get pushed around, not just for a quarter or a half, but consistently all game long, especially its defensive line. I can't believe I am saying this with all the talent on this team - especially the defense - but USC sorely misses a player who graduated last year. That player is Sedrick Ellis. USC's defensive tackles, and particularly its nose tackles in its 3-down look, got plain beat tonight. It wasn't for lack of effort. They were playing hard. They just got ridden hard and left wet, period. Used to seeing guys like Cody, Patterson, and Ellis dominating the middle, this was something we haven't seen in a long time. It was the difference in the game.

All that said, I still spent much of the game amazed at USC's talent all over the field. I don't remember a college team with this much speed and ability at linebacker. Cushing, Maualuga, and Matthews cover as much ground as most safeties, and they literally tower over the runningbacks and receivers they are tackling. Even the reserves are blazers - on one play Kaluka Maiava came all the way from the weakside, across the front of the offensive line and downhill the whole way, like a white streak across the screen, and blew up a sweep going away from him to the other side - and he blew it up before it got to the line of scrimmage. These guys plus DBs Ellison and Mays (the freak of all freak athletes in college football - 6-3 220 safety, 4.32, 6% body fat) are the strength of this defense, rather than the defensive front.

The freak. As big as the nearby lineman.

And then there are the wide receivers. USC was down a bit last year in the department. Well not anymore. Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson are lightning quick and Sarkisian does a great job of using rubs and decoys to get them the ball in space. Now that these two are taking the other team's best corner, Patrick Turner (who was supposed to be the next Mike Williams at 6-5 220 but frankly was considered a bust last year) is getting mismatches and getting open. That's three viable options that look very tough to defend.

Sanchez is a bit a wild card. He reminds me a lot of Riley actually. He's a vocal leader, has a lot of charisma, and can buy time with his feet, but he plays young and misses on throws occasionally. He led them down for a nice drive at the very end, but it was too little too late. And his INT on the previous drive that pretty much iced the game was very Longshore-esque - it was a forced throw that was off the mark in crunch time when they could ill-afford to turn it over. Reminiscent of his shaky play in the loss up at Oregon last year.

One last thing of note. For all their depth, injuries do appear to be taking their toll on USC a bit. Maualuga went out with a knee injury, Cushing has been playing hurt all season, CB Shareece Wright is out 6 weeks, they are young on the o-line due to some injuries, and Sanchez in playing on a gimpy knee. Don't know what effect it had on this game, but if two LBs, a CB and the QB are hurting, it's going to affect things.

So do I think this was the last slip up we'll see from USC? I don't know, but if they stay healthy, from what I have seen so far, the only teams with a chance to beat them are Cal and Oregon, simply because they are balanced and have physical, well-coached lines. ASU's lines are too weak, Arizona's Texas Tech offense plays too much into USC's speed on defense, and everyone else just doesn't have the pieces in place. I think Cal can do it, but they need some big plays in all three phases. You can't grind it out with USC because they can strike so quickly on offense. They need to be under pressure or else they will run away with it. Luckily, Cal has always been able to keep the games close with them, but until now has been unable to get the big plays (that no-call on the Pimentel fumble recovery in 2006 was bush and would have changed that game). Oregon also has a good chance but only if their QB issues are sorted out.

Then again, USC could turn it on and leave everyone in the dust. If that happens, we can all thank the Beavers for spoiling it for the rest of us.


TheTOB said...

I'm not sure why you say you can't grind it out against USC when OSU did just that. OSU had only 3.9 yds per carry and 6.0 yards per pass. A total of 343 yards. In the 2nd half, they didn't do much of anything, scoring only at the end when they got the ball on the 2.

That is not to imply that I think Cal should mimic that gameplan. It was a bit flukey. But it's hard to say it can't be done when it was just...done.

SDGoldenBear said...

Thanks the comment thetob. I am going to have to respectfully disagree. To me, the following does not say "grind-it-out": (1) OSU jumping all over USC early and scoring 21 unanswered points in the first half, including off a fumble recovery, (2) USC being down 21-0 at halftime and clearly shell-shocked, (3) USC playing from behind and having to pass the ball the whole second half. The recipe to beat SC is usually to catch them sleeping, get up on them early, and then hold on. That's what Cal did in 2003, Oregon State in 2006 and 2008.

In terms of whether Cal should mimic the game plan, I humbly submit that getting up on your opponent by 21, not turning the ball over carelessly, having your RB go for 186, and beating the crap out of them in the trenches for the rest of the game is an excellent game plan. Do I think it can be replicated? As I said, Cal is going to need big plays or early scoring advantage to beat SC. If they do that, they have a chance. If they trade punches with them, they will lose.

Just my armchair opinion - good discussion to have.

TheTOB said...

Are we using a different definition of "grind it out"?

By grind it out I mean run the ball in chunks (5-6 yds per carry) and control the clock, keeping the USC offense off of the field.

That's why I point to OSU's ypc being relatively low. Jacquizz Rodgers' longest run was 15 yards. And he got to that tells me they were grinding it out, not trying to do too much.

Yeah, they jumped out to a 21-0 lead. But it wasn't an early 21-0 lead. They got one early TD and then didn't score again until 07:38 left int he 2nd quarter, a span of almost 17 minutes since their first TD. They didn't score the third TD until the closing seconds of the half. After that, they didnt score until the end of the 4th.

Going back to my first post. You said, "You can't grind it out with USC because they can strike so quickly on offense." But OSU just did that. They grinded it out against USC and prevented SC from making the big play.

So my point is...they grinded it out by running the ball and controlling the clock (35 mins of possession for OSU). But can we do the same? I agree that going up 21-0 at the half, etc. etc. is an excellent gameplan. Obviously. Is it doable, though? For Cal. Can we run the ball like they did? Can we control the SC lines like they did? I dunno...maybe.

Good discussion/post.

Bears Necessity said...

The most likely scenario to catch the Trojans sleeping would be if USC goes undefeated up into our game, and Cal loses maybe one more (probably Oregon), so that everyone overvalues the Trojans at home and undervalues the Bears.

Otherwise we'll have to *gulp* gameplan properly and try to outplay them. That'll be fun.

Anonymous said...

agree 100% with your take on the Pimental fumble recovery. That is exactly the kind of play a good team needs against a great team to win, and it was taken away from us. Still F***ing po'ed about.

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