Of all the match-ups that matter in Thursday's game at Hawaii, this to me is the most "sexy". And probably the most awkwardly one sided (that we know of.) If you're a fan of either team, then you probably remember the touchdown that happened 19 seconds into this video (19 seconds here being video time, it actually happened 10 seconds into the game.) 75 yards on the first pass from scrimmage. Marquise Lee. Touchdown. Yeah.
My reaction to this in real time went something like this:
Me: YES WE STOPPED THEM FROM SCORING ON THE KICKOFF!!! THAT'S A WIN!!!
Me: *Turns around to high five my friends*
Me: *Turns back to the TV to see Marqise striding down the field"*
The corner that ‘Qise beat on that play, Tony Grimes, is where any analysis of this matchup has to begin, because stopping him is, to me, the key to stopping the entire offense. Well alright that's not totally true. Stopping him is just key to helping limit the potential for the score to not get run up on us. The announcer (I think it was Gus Johnson) who called the game seemed to put forth that Grimes was beaten on a "simple" move, but that's definitely not the case.
Marqise is a Heisman candidate not just because he has world class speed moving in a straight line, but moving laterally as well (and his great hands, and great leaping ability etc. etc.) A "simple" cut like the one he made to shake Tony is extremely rare in college football, and was exacerbated by the fact that Tony was playing so far off him to respect his speed. Watch the video again and pause it at 18 seconds. When Marqise catches the ball, Tony is 5 yards away. As Qise turns up the field Tony hesitates, anticipating a change of direction and doesn't effectively close that gap. He bites on the initial fake right, and just doesn't leave himself with enough room to catch up once Lee starts striding, which ate up his angle probably MUCH faster than he'd anticipated (Grimes was playing in his first college game in over a year.) There were two options here for Tony as I see it. Move up quickly and close the gap to limit the effectiveness of Lee's lateral quickness (but also increase his margin for error) or back up to give himself more room to make the play. Sadly he stayed in no-man's land and….well the result is pretty self explanatory.
The best solution I can think of? Nequan Phillips. Unlike Tony, who prefers to play man coverage in space, NeQuan gets right up in the middle of the wide receiver's face. Even though he's on the shorter side (around 5' 9?), his physical style makes it more difficult for opposing receivers to get off the line and disrupts the timing of their routes. This is the basic theory behind "bump and run" coverage and NeQuan excels at it. Against Marqise this would have had two benefits (specifically in the situation above). First, it would have eliminated the ability for Lee to catch the ball in space and make a move. Second, it would have necessitated help over the top from a safety. NeQuan played his best last year when the team shaded a safety to his side, assuring him that even if he got beat, there would be someone there to (theoretically) make the tackle. I'm not sure which coverage was called on this specific play, but you see Marrell Jackson (#10) running into the picture 20 yards down the field (meaning he wasn't close when the catch was initially made.) And who knows, this hypothetical matchup change may not have altered the outcome (Marqise is, after all, very very good) but it would have at least made it more difficult to come by. I think if UH is to have any chance at slowing down USC's passing, it'll be because they had NeQuan on Marqise for most of it.
Tony, to his credit, admits that this has been eating away at him. He knows that he got embarrassed on national TV and when I talked to him, he indicated that he was really chomping at the bit to get out there and prove himself again (rematch!!). And, while I'd like to believe in him and his talent, there really just can't be any mistakes here. And, even if he's not on Lee, it's not as though Nelson Agholor is some random schmuck. Tony will have his hands full either way. Man I think I'm gonna need a drink.