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WHEN USC HAS THE BALL

Linemen and Receivers Have Difficult Matchups

January 04, 2006|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

It's easy to be overlooked playing on a unit that features two Heisman Trophy winners and the school record holder in total touchdowns. That's the case for USC starting offensive linemen Taitusi Lutui, Fred Matua, Sam Baker, Winston Justice and Ryan Kalil.

Each player is a dominant one-on-one blocker capable of executing double-team, trap and counter blocks to open holes for running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White. The linemen also work well together to protect quarterback Matt Leinart, who often has a tight end or fullback to help block on passing plays.

The key to neutralizing USC's linemen is to be more physical than they are. In close victories over Notre Dame and Fresno State, the Trojans had trouble moving the ball at times because they were not the aggressor at the line of scrimmage.

Texas' defensive line has the right combination of quickness and power to potentially give the Trojans more problems than the Irish and Bulldogs did. Under the guidance of co-coordinators Gene Chizik and Duane Akina, the Longhorn defense limited opponents to 4.1 yards per play and many times got the job done without blitzing.

Texas 315-pound tackle Rodrique Wright is a load in the middle and has the size to match up against USC's center (Kalil) and guards (Lutui and Matua). Ends Tim Crowder, Brian Robison and Brian Orakpo are also solid players who have enough height to cut down Leinart's passing lanes.

Chizik coached against USC twice when he was coordinator at Auburn and that should help the Longhorns. He has made it a point for Texas to win the battle up front.

The matchup to watch will be USC's wide receivers against the Longhorn defensive backs. Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith are great players who love to make big catches, but they will be hard pressed by Texas' secondary, which is led by hard-hitting safety Michael Huff.

Don't be surprised to see the Longhorn defensive backs get physical with USC's receivers at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to throw off the Trojans' offensive rhythm.

Cornerbacks Cedric Griffin, Tarell Brown and Aaron Ross have good size and speed. Although they usually play conservative coverage, the Longhorns will not be afraid to crowd the line in order to slow down USC's potent ground game.

USC's receivers face tight coverage in practice daily and are familiar with contact, but they haven't faced defensive backs like the Longhorns, who tackle and cover well.

Linebacker Aaron Harris will play an important role as the Longhorns try to slow down Bush and White. If Harris, who had 80 tackles in the regular season, can make plays at the line or in USC's backfield, the Trojan offense will have problems.

But it's also important for Texas not to pay too much attention to USC's big-name players. Over the last two seasons, role players such as tight ends Dominique Byrd and Fred Davis and fullbacks David Kirtman and Brandon Hancock have stepped up when opponents slowed down USC's top weapons.

That's what makes Leinart so dangerous. He does a great job of utilizing the entire game plan prepared by coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian along with Coach Pete Carroll. Leinart thinks through the game like an NFL quarterback, and his ability to expose defensive weaknesses is uncanny.

In the end, this matchup will come down to the Leinart factor and whether USC can protect last season's Heisman Trophy winner from Texas' pressure defense.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

USC team statistics

Points per game

USC: 50.0

Opp.: 21.3

Rushing average per game

USC: 264.2 yards

Opp.: 117.3

Average per rush

USC: 6.6

Opp.: 3.5

Passing average per game

USC: 316.0

Opp.: 227.3

Average per catch

USC: 13.4

Opp.: 11.4

Total offense average per game

USC: 7.5

Opp.: 5.0

Total offense average per play

USC: 580.2

Opp.: 344.7

Total touchdowns

USC: 82

Opp.: 33

3rd down conversion percentage

USC: 55%

Opp.: 37%

Time of possession

USC 30:53

Opp. 29:07

Source: USC

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