Early Rose Bowl thoughts

It's one of the oldest axioms in football that a game is decided in the trenches and that is certainly true for the upcoming Rose Bowl. The Michigan Wolverines are coming to town as champions of the Big 10 and, as we've all heard, the Big 10 conference is supposed to be power football with an emphasis on running the football.

It's one of the oldest axioms in football that a game is decided in the trenches and that is certainly true for the upcoming Rose Bowl. The Michigan Wolverines are coming to town as champions of the Big 10 and, as we've all heard, the Big 10 conference is supposed to be power football with an emphasis on running the football.

Of course, that's the same thing we heard last season while preparing to face Iowa in the Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes were supposed to run up and down the field against the overpowered Trojans but we all know how that one turned out. USC used a combination of size and speed to overmatch the Iowa players and the game was never really in doubt after the first quarter. That doesn't automatically mean the same thing will happen this year but the same logic applies.

Michigan comes in with a balanced offense that relies heavily on the legs of tailback Chris Perry, a pretty good runner who ended up fourth in the Heisman Trophy race. Perry has good size and you can be sure the Michigan coaches will look to get him going as early as possible in this game. A big key for the Wolverines will be the ability to get an early lead so Perry can grind the ball out for the majority of the game. They have the ability to come from behind, as evidenced by a big comeback victory over Minnesota, but this is not a team that makes a living with a quick strike offense. When they do throw the ball, John Navarre gives them an experienced senior presence and his stats this year are solid but he's not the most mobile of quarterbacks. The Trojans will likely put on a fierce pass rush primarily with the front four with the added element of a few key blitzes thrown in. Pete Carroll is known for blitzing at any time, any place on the field and with any defender. USC hasn't blitzed as much this season because we've seen so much success by going with our base front four but with several weeks to prepare for this one game you know that Carroll will have a few tricks up his sleeve to help rattle Navarre.

When he has time (Navarre has only been sacked 15 times this year) the QB is helped by a pair of talented receivers in Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant but it remains to be seen how much time Navarre will have to throw them the ball. The Wolverines have a good offensive line led by a two-time All-Big 10 tackle in Tony Pape and his battles with consensus All-American Kenechi Udeze should be a key factor in this game. The Trojans have done a great job all season, and during Carroll's entire tenure at USC, of taking away one element of an opponents offense and forcing them to try and beat us with the other part. In this game it stands to reason that Carroll will look to slow down the run game as much as possible while forcing Navarre to beat us through the air. The strategy has worked pretty well this season with the only blemish on the record coming when Adimchinobe Echemandu ran wild on the Trojan defense in late September. Teams have been able to throw at times against USC but Cal is the only team that was able to put together both elements of the offense and they came away with a victory.

The strength of the Michigan defense is with the linebacking corps, including leading tackler Lawrence Reid, so it will be important for the Trojan offensive line to assert themselves early. The loss of John Drake is a big one to the hopes of the running game (we averaged 212 rushing per game with Drake in the starting line-up, 115 in games he didn't start) but Fred Matua has looked good in bowl practices and has the experience of starting several games this season. We also have consensus All-American Jacob Rogers and All Pac-10 first teamer Norm Katnik so we should be OK. All the primary members of the backfield are healthy including the timely return of Brandon Hancock and we saw how effective Hancock could be during the middle of the season as a pass catching weapon out of the backfield.

The key to the offense, as always, will be for Norm Chow to get in his usual rhythm of taking what the defense is giving him. It will also be vital for Tim Davis' OL group to be ready to play on New Years Day no matter if the line needs to open holes for the running backs or provide Pac-10 Player of the Year Matt Leinart with enough time to hit consensus All-American Mike Williams or Keary Colbert. The overall team speed for USC is one thing that the Wolverines won't be able to simulate in practice and that is critical. The Wolverines are ranked among the national leaders in several defensive categories but it's hard to imagine that they've seen an offense with the kind of varied options available within the Trojan attack. It's not to say the Trojans can't play power football, ask Iowa about the myth of a Big 10 team overpowering us last season, but the combination of speed and power on the lines is one thing USC teams has been using to overwhelm opponents on their own this season.

If the size and speed of the Trojan lines can achieve similar results to the ones we saw in the Orange Bowl last year (big, fast players beat big, slow players) then that will allow the speed of the skill players to take over. The job of preparing the lines goes to a pair of fiery and intense coaches in Ed Orgeron and Tim Davis who have to be salivating over the opportunities being presented in this game because not only do the Trojans have the chance to further debunk the presumption of Big 10 power football but they have a chance to bring home a national championship along the way.


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