"We fully expect to stop them," Crowder said. "That's just the way our defense is. That's the way coach (Gene Chizik) teaches us. He teaches us to dominate any offense."
Even Southern Cal's? Despite the fact that former Trojan offensive coordinator Norm Chow is now calling the plays for the Tennessee Titans, the two-time defending national champs still led the nation with 580.3 ypg. And all indications are that the Men of Troy will be coming at Texas with not one, but two, Heisman Trophy winners on January 4.
Yet, Texas and USC are virtually neck-and-neck when it comes to galloping downfield with the football. The Horns enter bowl season with the nation's No. 3 offense (508.4 ypg), No. 3 rushing offense (273.3 ypg) and lead Division-I in points scored (50.9). That's part of the reason why you won't see a Longhorn defender shaking in his cleats at the prospect of facing Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and company.
"We go against our offense every day," FS Michael Griffin points out. "You've seen what they can do. We practice against a great offense every day."
The flipside is Texas' defense is rated No. 6 (280.3 ypg) while USC, after leading the nation in total D the past two seasons, has fallen off to No. 39 (344.7 ypg). Part of the reason why USC's defense is viewed, by some, as its weakest link is because the unit is so overshadowed by its record-setting offense, Trojan coach Pete Carroll contends. There has also been some attrition since last season, he added.
"Quite frankly, I think our defense has drawn attention mainly because of the losses that we had with guys either going on to the NFL (Sean Cody, Michael Patterson, Emmanual Wright) or graduating," Carroll said. "We've got a pretty solid group. We can hold it together pretty well. We've developed young players throughout the season when injuries have occurred. We have significant depth. We've played a lot of freshmen and sophomores, as we always do. After all is said and done, we've led our conference in defense again and in the major categories that really count."
True, but there is one significant qualifier to Carroll's statement worth mentioning: this is the offensive-minded, pass-happy PAC-10 conference. Other than USC, you won't find a single PAC-10 defense rated among the Top 40. Oregon finished the season rated No. 48 (377.4 ypg) in total D, while a Fresno State team that yielded 340 ypg (No. 34) is, statistically, the saltiest unit the Trojans have faced this season. Conversely, Texas met three defenses ranked in the top 20 (Ohio State, Oklahoma, Kansas).
"Our defense is just different," Crowder said. "We're gonna find a way. We're gonna fight you for all four quarters. I'm not trying to talk any trash but I feel we can dominate anybody. If we put our minds to it and if we play Texas football, we can do it."
When Texas coach Mack Brown began to shuffle his staff two seasons ago, he insisted that the biggest upgrade needed to be defensively. Former Co-DC Greg Robinson's read-and-react scheme was not particularly embraced by some of Texas' down linemen, but the one-and-done coach instilled some badly needed attitude and attention to fundamentals to a unit that endured a two-year slide under former DC Carl Reese after leading the nation in 2001. Current Co-DC Gene Chizik embraced much of the 2004 blueprint, but added a vicious blitz package, unleashed his D-line to become playmakers downfield, sprinkled in some more nickel and dime and counted on his secondary for more run support. And while USC's 34-0 mark is one for the ages, it's not lost on the Horns that the former Auburn DC is now 25-0 during the past two seasons.
"Chizik hasn't lost a game in two years," Michael Griffin said. "That's a great accomplishment and we've got a lot of confidence in him that he can come up with something that will go against USC."
The Horns are No. 4 in scoring defense (14.6 ppg) and No. 5 against the pass (155.9 ypg). This season, the Trojan secondary has been susceptible to the long ball, yielding 227.3 yards through the air. However, Carroll believes there has been little regression from last year's bunch.
"We've basically played up to the same level that we've played in years past with the exception that we haven't had as many sacks as we've had in other years," Carroll said. "I think that's the only difference in what's been going on. That's the one area that affects your rushing stats and also the effect it has on your pass defense."
The Horns return to practice this Saturday morning.