HuskerTornado's Game Preview

Check out Big Red Report's Gameday Preview as we give you the tale of the tape between the USC Trojans and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

GAME THREE.......September 16th, 2006.........7:00 PM CT........ABC.....Los Angeles, CA

#19 NEBRASKA (2 - 0)




Player Breakdowns


Southern California Offense


After opening the season at Arkansas, USC had a bye week to prepare for the Huskers. The Trojans gained 472 yards in total offense against the Razorbacks, good enough for 11th best in the nation. USC currently ranks 20th in passing (280 ypg), 31st in passing efficiency (153.75 rating), 27th rushing (192 ypg), 4th scoring offense (50 ppg), and 1st in turnover margin (+ 5).


QB: Jr. John David Booty (24 of 35, 261 yds, 3 TDs) came out firing on all cylinders in the second half against Arkansas after a sluggish start. Tall and lean at 6'3", 195lbs, durability has been a problem since he arrived in Los Angeles. Since 2003, Booty has suffered a broken left wrist, severely bruised right elbow, and had back surgery this off-season. While certainly not fair to compare him to Matt Leinart, Booty should prove to be more than an adequate replacement. Behind Booty is RFr. Mark Sanchez (1 for 2, 19 yds). The starting race had been pretty close, and there is little drop-off between 1 and 2.


RB: Running back by committee will be seen, as Jr. Chauncey Washington (8 rushes, 55 yds), Fr. C.J. Gable (12 carries, 51 yds), and Fr. Emmanuel Moody (7 carries, 58 yds), all rushed for more than half a hundred against the Razorbacks. Much like the rest of the USC offense, this group was held in check in the first half of the Arkansas game before running over and through a tired Hog defense in the second half. There isn't a LenDale White or Reggie Bush in this bunch, but they still give USC one of the more talented backfields in the country. At FB, Sr. Ryan Powdrell (2 carries, 9 yds) is one of the top pass catching backs in the country and had 4 receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago.


WR/TE: Perhaps the best unit in the nation, the SC receivers are led by Jr. Dwayne Jarrett (5 catches, 35 yds) and Sr. Steve Smith (5 catches, 67 yds). Jarrett is set to break the all-time USC record for career receptions, in just his third season. Jarrett and Smith make nightmarish match-up problems for opposing defenses. Sr. Chris McFoy (2 catches, 7 yds) and So. Patrick Turner (2 catches, 15 yds, 1 TD) are also great weapons that should get multiple catches. USC has one of the deepest receiving corps around, as they have multiple freshmen that are also capable of breaking games open. Top TE, Jr. Fred Davis (5 catches, 59 yds, 1 TD) is another dangerous threat for the Trojans, with great hands and speed on his 6'4", 260lb frame.


OL: USC is in the process of replacing 3 offensive linemen that have moved on to the NFL. One game into the season, the Trojan offensive line is allowing 4.6 yards per rush. The line allowed 2 sacks in the win over Arkansas. Jr. Sam Baker starts at LT and is an absolute rock. He's set to be a finalist for all major lineman awards this season. At RT is Sr. Kyle Williams, a career reserve that played in all 12 games in 2005. At guard will be Jr. Drew Radovich on the left, and So. Chilo Rachal on the right. Starting at center is Sr. Ryan Kalil, entering his third year as full-time starter for the Trojans. Kalil suffered a concussion in practice this week, but may still play. Overall, this is a good sized line, averaging just under 6'5", 300lbs.



Southern California Defense


The Trojans are 44th nationally in total defense (287 ypg), 28th pass defense (157 ypg), 7th pass efficiency defense (72.46 rating), 68th rush defense (130 ypg), and 37th in scoring defense (14 ppg). There have been some injuries as of late, which may be a cause of concern this week against a high powered offense.


DL: After losing Frostee Rucker and La Juan Ramsey to the NFL, USC has now lost starting NT Sedrick Ellis (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF) to injury. Ellis will be out for a minimum or 2 to 3 weeks. In his place will be So. Fili Moala (1 tackle), who was splitting time at DT with Jr. starter Chris Barrett (1 tackle). At DE is All Pac-10 Jr. Lawrence Jackson (2 tackles, 1 QBH) and So. Kyle Moore. Against Arkansas, they were effective at slowing down a good Razorback rushing attack.


LB: The Trojans have one of the best linebacking corps in the nation. Top MLBs, Sr. Oscar Lua and So. Rey Maualuga (6 tackles) are both big, prototypical middle backers that fly to the ball. USC's OLBs are not devoid of talent either, as Jr. Keith Rivers (8 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR) returns to start at WLB while Sr. Dallas Sartz (5 tackles, 1 FF) and So. Brian Cushing (5 tackles, 1 QBH) share time at SLB. Sartz looked good against Arkansas after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. Jr. Thomas Williams (2 tackles, 1 INT) also had a good outing versus the Razorbacks, picking off a pass from Mitch Mustain in the fourth quarter.


DB: Jr. FS Josh Pinkard (6 tackles), arguably USC's top defender, suffered a season ending knee injury against Arkansas. In his place is Fr. Taylor Mays (2 tackles). Mays is an impressive physical specimen, standing at 6'4", 225lbs. He'll be tested early and often against Nebraska's passing attack. At SS is So. Kevin Ellison (2 tackles, 1 PBU). Ellison had a slight hyperextension of his knee in practice this week, but is expected to start Saturday. Starters at CB are Jr. Terrell Thomas (2 tackles, 1 INT) and So. Kevin Thomas (1 tackle, 1 FR). So. Cary Harris (3 tackles, 1 INT) and Fr. Shareece Wright (2 tackles) saw significant playing time against the Razorbacks and played well.



Southern California Special Teams


The jury is still out on the USC special teams. There are great kickers, but punting and the return game haven't been nearly as impressive.


K: Jr. Mario Danelo hit on all 3 of his field attempts against the Razorbacks, with a long of 44. So. Troy Van Blarcom has a booming leg, as he booted 8 of 9 kickoffs for touchbacks. This is a definite strength of the Trojans, as having great kickers is invaluable.


P: So. Greg Woidneck was underwhelming in his season premiere, punting 3 times for an average of 35.7 yards. However, all three punts were downed inside the opponents' 20.


KR/PR: So. Cary Harris returned 3 kickoffs for an average of just 16.7 yards. There have not been any punt returns for the Trojans this season.


Coverage: USC's coverage team has only experienced one kickoff return thus far. It was stopped after an 18 yard pick-up.




Nebraska Offense


Nebraska's 541 total offense yards per game is good enough for 3rd in the nation, while they rank 16th in passing (284.5 ypg), 8th pass efficiency (189.05 rating), 8th rushing (256.5 ypg), 2nd scoring offense (52.5 ppg), and 11th in turnover margin (+ 1.50). It will be paramount for Nebraska to keep their offensive balance against USC this week if they have any plans on pulling off the upset.


QB: Sr. Zac Taylor (41 of 56, 489 yds, 7 TDs, 1 INT) has the West Coast Offense working in his favor. His passes have been crisp and well placed, spreading the ball around to many receivers. Taylor has shown great field generalship, going to his second and third progressions and not becoming predictable. One thing that has helped Taylor out this season is time to throw. He has been sacked just once through two games, whereas a season ago was sacked 38 times in 12 outings. So. backup Joe Ganz (4 for 6, 80 yds, 1 TD) has looked more than comfortable during mop-up duties, giving Nebraska a viable option should something happen to Taylor.


RB: So.'s Marlon Lucky (31 carries, 182 yds, 2 TDs) and Cody Glenn (24 carries, 135 yds, 3 TDs) continue to give the Huskers a great one-two punch at running back. Jr.'s Kenny Wilson (24 carries, 126 yds, 1 TD) and Brandon Jackson (10 carries, 61 yds, 1 TD) are also seeing plenty of snaps, as all of these backs present a different skill set that allows them to be effective. Marlon Lucky has shown great hands this season, catching 4 passes for 55 yards while Brandon Jackson has caught 3 passes for 25 yards. This four headed monster will be tough to tame. Sr. FB Dane Todd (2 catches, 9 yards, 1 TD) will likely not see many carries this season, but he should prove to be effective in the passing game.


WR/TE: Jr. Terrence Nunn (8 catches, 76 yds) and So. Nate Swift (3 catches, 46 yds) lead the Huskers' receiving corps. Nunn is one of Nebraska's top playmakers, while Swift's hands make him equally effective as a deep threat as he is a possession receiver. Jr. Frantz Hardy (3 catches, 38 yds, 1 TD) runs clean routes and is a threat in the open field. Jr. Maurice Purify (3 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD) will likely make a bigger impact on this team as the season goes along. The 6'4", 210lb receiver presents match-up problems for opposing defenses and has the wheels to scoot away after he makes the catch. So. Todd Peterson (3 catches, 61 yds) is another tall, fast receiver that catches everything thrown his way. At TE, Sr. Matt Herian (7 catches, 99 yds, 2 TDs) is back and making big plays with his great hands. Jr.'s J.B. Phillips (5 catches, 25 yds, 1 TD), Josh Mueller (2 catches, 10 yds, 1 TD), and Hunter Teafatiller (1 catch, 29 yds, 1 TD) are all threats to score, as Nebraska likes to work in multiple tight ends.


OL: Nebraska's running backs are averaging 5.7 yards per carry, an improvement over 2005's average of 3.6 yards per carry. Much of that can be attributed to the vast improvement in Nebraska's offensive line play. In the first two games, Nebraska overpowered their opponents' defensive fronts, opening up gaping holes for the backs to slash through. Starting at the tackle positions will be Jr. Chris Patrick at LT, and So. Matt Slauson on RT. So. Lydon Murtha and Jr. Carl Nicks also play in a large number of snaps. Sr. Greg Austin starts at LG, while So. Mike Huff is solid at RG. Starting center, Sr. Kurt Mann, has a viral infection and will miss again this week. In his place will again be Jr. Brett Byford, who did an admirable job against Nicholls State.



Nebraska Defense


The Blackshirt defense goes into game 2 ranked 22nd nationally in total defense (246 ypg), 11th pass defense (119 ypg), 22nd pass efficiency defense (97.93 rating), 65th rush defense (127 ypg), and 13th in scoring defense (8.5 ppg). Nebraska has played very conservatively this season, but expect them to dig deeper in to the playbook this week.


DL: Nebraska's defensive line is led by senior defensive ends Adam Carriker (9 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH) and Jay Moore (6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH). So. Barry Turner (4 tackles, 3 QBH, 1 FR) is big, fast, and strong. He has a knack for beating opposing tackles for pressure on the QB. At DT Sr.'s Ola Dagunduro (1 tackle) and Barry Cryer (2 tackles) start. Backup sophomore DTs Ndamukong Suh (4 tackles) and Ty Steinkuhler (3 tackles) have gained experience over the past two games and will continue to see more time. This is one of the best starting front fours in the country, and will likely get opportunities to crank up the tackle for loss machine they were in 2005.


LB: Starting in the middle is Jr. Corey McKeon (8 tackles, 1 FR). Jr. Lance Brandenburgh has taken over for Phillip Dillard (4 tackles) as the number two MLB. Dillard is out for the season with an ACL tear suffered against Louisiana Tech. On the outside, Jr. Bo Ruud (5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FF) starts at weak side, sharing time with Jr. Steve Octavien (8 tackles), while Sr. Stewart Bradley (7 tackles, 2 FR, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) starts on the strong side. This is an excellent crew that are known for their ball hawking abilities.


DB: Jr. Cortney Grixby (7 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR) is a three year starter at WCB, while Jr. Andre Jones (2 tackles, 1 PBU) is the starter at SCB. Grixby typically gets picked on because of his 5'9", 170lb frame. He has tremendous leaping ability that can make up for the height deficiency. Jones is a big, physical, pure cover corner that has seemed to make a clean transition from JUCO to 1A football. At safety is Jr. Tierre Green (9 tackles) at SS and Sr. Andrew Shanle (7 tackles, 1 QBH) starts at FS. Depth is a big concern as injuries have riddled the DB's thus far. True freshmen Major Culbert (1 tackle) and Rickey Thenarse (1 tackle) are starting to get experience, but haven't seen anything like USC's receivers.



Nebraska Special Teams


Nebraska's special team play has been hit and miss through two games.


K: So. Jordan Congdon missed his first and only field goal attempt of the season last week, a 37 yarder. On kickoffs, he averaged just 54 yards on 15 attempts, while So. Jake Wesch had one kickoff for 60 yards and Fr. Jordan Alegria booted his one kickoff opportunity for just 59 yards. Failing to get kickoffs through the endzone will cause trouble against teams with speedy returners, such as USC.


P: So. Dan Titchener has looked good through two games. He is averaging 42 yards on 4 punts with a long of 53, having 2 punts downed inside the opponents' 20.


KR/PR: Jr. Tierre Green has returned two kickoffs for an average of 18.5 yards. Jr. Terrence Nunn is averaging 9.8 yards on 8 punt returns. So. Nate Swift got his chance last week at punt returns as well, returning 2 punts for an average of 24.5 yards.


Coverage: Nebraska's kick coverage is allowing 15.1 yards on 15 kickoffs, while punt return coverage allows an 8 yard average on 2 punts.



Nebraska's Offense vs. Southern California's Defense

It will be interesting to see what kind of gameplan coach Bill Callahan comes up with after breezing past Louisiana Tech and Nicholls State with nary a scratch at the playbook. With NT Sedrick Ellis out for the game, Nebraska may have success running the football. USC has a number of young players in key positions starting Saturday, some for the first time. QB Zac Taylor should be able to spread the ball around to an array of quality receivers. The return of a TE streak might be this week, as Herian matching up with freshman Taylor Mays could be a possibility. Nebraska's offensive line matches up well with USC's defensive front, as DE Lawrence Jackson appears to be the major threat to get pressure. USC will obviously have more team defensive speed than Nebraska has seen this season, and will use those first 15 scripted plays to find any glaring weaknesses. If Nebraska can run the football, this will be a fun one to watch.


Southern California's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

USC's offensive line will be key in this game, facing a Nebraska defense that a year ago led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. Nebraska has not been as prolific to start the season, however, much of that was due to conservative defensive play calling with rare blitzes. The major concern for USC on the line will be the health of C Ryan Kalil. If he is unable to play Saturday, USC's offensive line will have a big problem. QB John David Booty played well against Arkansas, especially in the second half, but Arkansas doesn't have a front seven like Nebraska does. USC's Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith present Nebraska's defensive backs with what is probably the best duo in the nation. Cortney Grixby and Andre Jones have not yet shown an ability to shut down an all-American caliber WR, so their chance to make a name for themselves is now. USC has greatly talented depth at nearly every skill position, which could be huge in the fourth quarter.


Keys to the Game


For Nebraska to Win:

1.) Put pressure on Booty.

2.) Establish run game early.

3.) Must ball hawk.

4.) Play loose.

5.) Spread the ball around.


For Southern California to Win:

1.) Start fast.

2.) Exploit Nebraska DB weakness.

3.) Slow Nebraska's crew of RBs.

4.) Eliminate penalties.

5.) Keep Blackshirt front seven away from Booty.


Gametime Weather

Weather Report for Nebraska vs. USC


Latest Line - USC by 18.5


Position Advantages:


QBs: Nebraska







Special Teams:USC

Coaching USC


Injury Report


CB - Zack Bowman - knee - out for season

CB - Isaiah Fluellen - knee - out for season

MLB - Phillip Dillard - knee - out for season

OLB - Nick Covey - knee - out for season

C - Kurt Mann - virus - out indefinitely


Southern California:

FB - Brandon Hancock - knee - out for season

S - Josh Pinkard - knee - out for season

NT - Sedrick Ellis - knee - out for 2-3 weeks

RB - Chauncey Washington - hamstring - questionable

SS - Kevin Ellison - hyper extended knee - probable

LB - Oscar Lua - hamstring - probable

C - Ryan Kalil - concussion - probable


Game Breakdown & Prediction


USC will put their 27 game home winning streak on the line, as well as their 33 game regular season game winning streak when Nebraska comes to town Saturday night. The Huskers are looking to use this game as a measuring stick to see where they are in year 3 of the Callahan era, while USC is hoping they still have enough talent to make it to the National Championship game again this season.


The amount of talent that USC lost to the NFL over the off-season was staggering, but has an immense amount of young talent this season. As you start to peruse the Trojan roster, you'll see high school all-Americans throughout. Some, like Taylor Mays, are starting earlier than expected due to injuries above them. They will surely be tested by a Nebraska offense that has shown impressive balance through two games.


An argument can be made that neither USC nor Nebraska has played a decent football team yet. After a second half explosion lifted USC to a 50-14 win over Arkansas two weeks ago, many thought the Trojans defeated a quality opponent. Arkansas, however, struggled to defeat an abysmal Utah State team last weekend, 20-0. Nebraska, meanwhile, has beaten up on Louisiana Tech (49-10) and Nicholls State (56-7) over the past two weeks, not exactly world-beaters either.


This should be a fun match-up with Pete Carroll, a defensive guru, coaching against Bill Callahan, an offensive guru - both from NFL backgrounds. A lot is being made of the talent level at USC versus Nebraska. It is no secret that Pete Carroll has a deeper pool to pull from, talent wise, however, high school statistics can be thrown away as soon as an athlete steps onto the field. In terms of experienced athletes, this may be a more even match-up than most are willing to give it, although certainly not a 50-50 split.


Nebraska's best chance to win will be if the running game is effective. If the Huskers can run, this will set up situations for big plays off of play-action passes. Having an effective running game will also help to give Zac Taylor time to throw. Nebraska also cannot afford turnovers. The Huskers will want to control the clock offensively, because the less time the defense has to be on the field, the lower likelihood that they will be heavily gassed and need to test the depth. Nebraska's chances will greatly improve if USC turns the ball over. If Nebraska can force turnovers and win the field position battle, it will be an incredible help in pulling off the upset in LA.


One thing that can not be forgotten is that former ASU QB Sam Keller, who torched the USC defense in 2005 for 347 yards and 2 TDs has transferred to Nebraska. He also threw 5 interceptions in that game, but was single handedly keeping the Sun Devils in the game. Keller is the scout team QB for the Huskers as he sits out his mandatory season. He has no doubt given some relevant information to the coaching staff as to what worked and what didn't for him last season.


For USC, strike early and strike often will be the key. There has been a tendency for USC to come out of the gates slowly, but if this happens Saturday night and they get behind early (like they have more than a few times over the past few years), they may find themselves in a tough situation. Nebraska is not Arkansas and will not simply roll over when the tough gets going. USC has nearly every advantage in this game, but it would be interesting to see if they have the mettle to come back against a good time like the Trojan teams of the recent past.


The 18.5 point line is a little high, as USC hasn't done enough this season that shows they are three touchdowns better than Nebraska. If they are, they'll have to prove it Saturday night. Games aren't won on paper.


Bottom line is that the Trojans should win this one, but barring a complete melt-down by Nebraska, this will be far from a breeze.


Nebraska - 24

Southern California - 34

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