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Trojans' Plan Focuses on Remedial Reading

September 06, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Months of preparation paid off for USC in its season opener against Auburn.

The Trojans vaulted into the hunt for the national championship by anticipating almost every one of Auburn's moves on offense and defense en route to a stunning 23-0 shutout.

Brigham Young might not be as fast or talented as Auburn, but today at the Coliseum, fourth-ranked USC has at least five reasons to be concerned about the Cougars -- and all of them are defensive backs.

BYU's 3-3-5 defense is designed to confuse. And USC was allotted a mere five days to prepare for one of the nation's quirkiest schemes.

"We've never seen anything like this before and we won't see it the rest of the year," senior offensive tackle Jacob Rogers said. "It is a pretty [tough] deal to have to get ready for this in one week."

USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who coached at BYU for 27 seasons, said the newfangled defense would challenge quarterback Matt Leinart in his second start.

"The five secondary people line up straight across the board and run to different spots," Chow said. "It's tough to read the coverage."

Leinart, a redshirt sophomore, debuted as the starter last week on the road before a sellout crowd. Leinart, who had never thrown a pass in a college game, played efficiently, passed for 192 yards and a touchdown, and did not commit a major mistake.

The offense, however, was largely untested because the defense forced three turnovers. USC scored touchdowns on drives of 20 and 14 yards after an interception and fumble.

"We didn't play that well on offense," senior flanker Keary Colbert said. "There is a lot of stuff we need to clean up for BYU."

USC's offensive linemen might get a test against BYU, which defeated Georgia Tech in its opener last week, 24-13. Linebackers and defensive backs who rush the passer from a variety of angles flank the Cougars' three defensive linemen.

"It's only three guys down, but you have to block the guys behind," USC offensive tackle Winston Justice said. "They're always bringing a fourth or fifth guy, sometimes seven or eight.

"And those five defensive backs are coming from everywhere."

Rogers said experience should serve the Trojans well. Right guard Fred Matua, a redshirt freshman, is the only first-year starter among the offensive linemen.

"We're used to keeping our heads up in our stances, being able to identify the defense and reading how they shift with motion," Rogers said.

Trojan receivers also must decode the alignment before running routes.

"It's definitely confusing," sophomore Mike Williams said. "Hopefully, we work hard enough in practice so when we get in the game, we can attack what they're doing and hopefully get them out of that defense and play something we're more familiar with."

Of course, USC could win despite another tepid offensive effort if the defense repeated its dominance.

USC last posted consecutive shutouts in 1971 when it defeated Rice, 24-0, and Illinois, 28-0. But BYU has not been blanked in 351 games, an NCAA record.

"We always want to play well, but the mind-set is not to get shutouts," USC Coach Pete Carroll said.

USC will try to contain Cougar quarterback Matt Berry, a 23-year-old redshirt sophomore who completed 31 of 46 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against Georgia Tech.

Senior wide receiver Toby Christensen, the son of former BYU and NFL player Todd Christensen, and freshman tight end Daniel Coates each caught six passes in the opener.

"We get to play a team that is the total opposite of Auburn," USC cornerback Kevin Arbet said. "It's a spread, wide-open offense with three, four or five receivers. They pass a whole lot, so you get a chance to make more plays."

BYU's roster includes many players who interrupted their careers for two years to serve Mormon missions. The average age of BYU's starters in 23.4 years, USC's 20.5.

Trojan players do not expect to be at a disadvantage.

"Age is nothing but a number," said 20-year-old defensive end Kenechi Udeze. "I don't think it's going to be a big thing."

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