USC will mix up their fronts so the roles of the lineman often change. In the 3-4 front, Brian Cushing drops back as a fourth linebacker, but in the 4-3 he is a defensive end. Also in the 3-4, Sedrick Ellis is the nose man, but he plays a similar one technique alignment in the other fronts as well. Lawrence Jackson has the size and ability to make him adaptable to just about any defense, which makes him extremely valuable. Jackson is having a decent year if you look at the stat sheet (four sacks, 11 tackles for loss) but he has the ability to be a first round draft pick down the road. Brian Cushing doesn’t possess nearly the strength that Jackson does, but he makes up for it with his athletic ability. However, like Jackson he is lacking in the sack department with only two on the tear, but he does have 9.5 tackles for loss. Sedrick Ellis doesn’t have the natural anchor skills of a nose man but he plays the gaps well and can be disruptive inside. Ellis has three and a half sacks on the season. Fili Moala is more of the space eater on the line and doesn’t penetrate as well as Ellis does.
The strength of the team is the linebackers. Pete Carroll is not afraid to send his linebackers on the blitz. Strongside linebacker Dallas Sartz paces the team with six sacks and has also tallied 66 tackles. Sartz has excellent size and instincts but isn’t as athletic as the other linebackers in the group. Weakside linebacker Keith Rivers and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga lead the team with 76 tackles a piece. Both have a ton of ability on tape. They both are very aggressive, fly to the ball and hit like wrecking balls when the get there. Anyone who watched the UCLA game knows Rey Maualuga will make you worry about opposing players well being on the field. If these two can play a bit more under control and improve their instincts in pass coverage, they will be stars at the next level as well. Senior Oscar Lua is a quality reserve inside who has 31 tackles on the season already. Kaluka Maiava is the top backup at outside linebacker who has already recorded 34 stops this year.
Based on film, Michigan should expect a good deal of zone coverage. As was the case with Ohio State, the preferred look here is cover 3, but Chad Henne will have to run through quite a few looks. The zone blitz will be used along with other coverage’s that will change from pre-snap to post-snap looks. Cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Cary Harris are very talented and have done a pretty good job of playing their roles. They could stand to show more instincts in coverage but that is a developing trait in most underclassmen cover men. The safety play has been surprisingly good so far. Kevin Ellison displays great awareness for a young player and his size makes him like an extra linebacker when is inverted in the box. Former coveted Wolverine recruit Taylor Mays has been outstanding so far as a freshman. Mays has monster size, but he moves well enough to hold down the position. Both Mays and Ellison have done a solid job at keeping things in front of them and both can hit with the best of them.
Is the USC defense the best the Wolverines will face all year? In my opinion,
they are, but the gap isn’t huge between the Trojans and Ohio State. The
defense as a whole is very fast and aggressive and Pete Carroll lets them fly
around. There is some youth in the secondary and for stretches the coverage
will slip, but overall the sheer speed and talent of the defense makes up for
a lot of their mistakes. If past games are any indication, the Trojans are going
to come after Chad Henne and the Wolverine offense. Mike Hart will have to have
a great game if the Wolverines are to come out on top. Blocking, running the
football and controlling the blitz with the draw and screen game will be crucial.
If Chad Henne has time, the passing game can do some damage, but anyone who
watched the last time these two played knows this area is not a given.