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The Producers

USC's defensive line responded to being called out by the coaches for a quiet performance against Virginia by dominating an experienced Ohio State team

September 17, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC defensive linemen heard it nearly nonstop during the two weeks leading up to the Ohio State game.

"Production! Production! Production!"

After the unit's mostly quiet performance against Virginia in the opener, defensive coordinator Nick Holt and defensive line coach Dave Watson became louder and more relentless.

Before, during and after meetings. Before, during and after practice. As players were walking through Heritage Hall.

"Production! Production! Production!"

The linemen got the message, producing 6 1/2 tackles for losses, including five sacks, in the top-ranked Trojans' 35-3 rout of the Buckeyes last Saturday.

Senior end Kyle Moore, senior tackle Fili Moala, sophomore end Everson Griffen, senior end Clay Matthews and freshman tackle Armond Armstead each had a sack against Ohio State, which came into the Coliseum with a large and experienced offensive line.

It was a major step forward for a Trojans unit searching for an identity after the departures of nose tackle Sedrick Ellis and end Lawrence Jackson, seniors who combined for 19 sacks in 2007 and were selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

"You always heard Sedrick and L.J. making all the sacks," Moore said Tuesday. "This time it was a lot of guys and that was a good thing to see."

Holt and Watson were just happy to see more tackling in general from their charges, especially after the Virginia experience.

Moore, Moala, junior nose tackle Averell Spicer and sophomore nose tackle Christian Tupou combined for zero tackles against the Cavaliers in the Trojans' 52-7 victory.

Virginia's offensive scheme was partly responsible -- "They didn't even try to run the ball much so we didn't have a lot of opportunities," Holt said -- but the coaches wanted more effort and results against the Buckeyes.

The line delivered, making 24 tackles.

Matthews, who was moved from linebacker to the "elephant" position along the line of scrimmage this season, said speed and tenacity are the calling cards for this group of linemen.

"Just playing with a motor," said Matthews, who has 12 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. "We have a group of guys that really know how to do that."

After helping to limit hesitant-to-run Virginia to 32 rushing yards, the line helped hold Ohio State to 71.

USC went into another week off tied for third nationally in scoring defense, giving up five points a game. The Trojans are fifth in total defense (197 yards a game), tied for sixth in sacks (seven) and tackles for losses (18) and eighth in rushing defense (51.5 yards per game).

"We're just deeper," Holt said of the line. "Fili's better than he was last year. Kyle's tons better than he was last year and with the addition of Clay we can do some different things."

The Trojans also are getting contributions from freshmen such as Armstead, nose tackle Jurrell Casey and end Malik Jackson.

With an open date Saturday, the younger players will get many repetitions this week as the Trojans move toward next week's preparation for their Sept. 25 Pacific 10 Conference opener at Oregon State.

The defensive line envisions a repeat performance.

"We know it starts in practice," Moore said. "We've got to practice hard again and the same thing is going to happen."

--

gary.klein@latimes.com

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