Xs and O's

Coming apart at schemes

December 02, 2006

A look at key matchups inside the USC-UCLA football game.

Today: Battle of the coordinators. DeWayne Walker's UCLA defense versus Lane Kiffin's USC offense.


DeWayne Walker, UCLA's first-year defensive coordinator, coached the USC secondary in 2001 as part of Pete Carroll's first staff. Another assistant on that staff was Lane Kiffin, who at the time worked with the Trojans tight ends and is now the team's offensive coordinator. At the end of that season, Walker left for a job with the NFL's New York Giants. Today, Walker and Kiffin's units face each other for the first time. Times staff writer Lonnie White breaks down the competition:

Throughout the week, Pete Carroll has talked glowingly about UCLA's defense under the direction of DeWayne Walker.

The improvement is most obvious in run defense. After opponents last season ran roughshod over the Bruins, this season UCLA is statistically among the stingiest units in the nation.

Walker seems to have picked up pointers throughout his career. As a player, he was a two-year starter at cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings and also played in the CFL and USFL. And, after leaving USC, Walker worked for several well-respected NFL defensive specialists.

In 2002-03, he coached the New York Giants' secondary under coordinator Johnnie Lynn, who was known for using aggressive schemes that put a lot of trust in cornerbacks.

Walker does the same at UCLA.

From there, he spent two seasons in charge of the Washington Redskins' secondary under coordinator Gregg Williams, who is known for his high-volume blitzes.

Walker has used a similar approach at times for UCLA.

As a result of successfully forcing the issue and correctly predicting passing plays, the Bruins lead the nation in third-down conversion defense, having given up only 39 first downs in 145 opportunities.

The UCLA defense has been especially solid in its last two games, victories over Oregon State and Arizona State, so the Bruins enter today's game with some confidence.

They'll need it against a USC offense that appears to have hit its stride.

Early this season when the Trojans were having problems moving the ball, Kiffin's play-calling was openly questioned. But since receiver Dwayne Jarrett's health improved, USC has had more offensive flow and unpredictability.

Kiffin's ability to blend new wrinkles into the Trojans' basic running game has made USC difficult to defend. Running backs C.J. Gable and Chauncey Washington have been effective, which has opened up play-action pass plays for quarterback John David Booty.

Although Kiffin has been at USC since Carroll took over in 2001, he hasn't always worked for him. Before joining the Trojans, Kiffin worked as a quality control coach in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars for one year, and as an assistant at Colorado State and Fresno State a combined three years.

A quarterback at Fresno State from 1994 to '97, Kiffin worked with former USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow for four years before taking over for Chow in 2005. The Trojans still use some of Chow's schemes, but they also include the influence of assistant head coach Steve Sarkisian, who worked under Norv Turner with the Oakland Raiders in 2004.

USC's offense works well when it runs the ball and mixes in plenty of throws to Jarrett and Steve Smith. But the Trojans are at their very best when they also involve players such as receivers Patrick Turner and Chris McFoy and tight end Fred Davis.

Final call: Walker and Kiffin will have game plans based on each other's strengths and weaknesses, but the advantage will go to the coach who prompts his unit to adjust fastest and best.


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