The Hogue Report

Defense Dominates, Offense Struggles, but a Win is a Win, Right? Is there a Reason to Worry?

The coaches and players all gave the party lines: "we've played three good teams and have gotten three good wins," "anytime you win your conference opener on the road, you're happy," "we're making teams beat us and that's not happening," etc., etc. They're all good quotes, and they're all true statements, but I know if I'm on this team right now (especially a member of this offense), I'm far from satisfied.

But first, let's look at the positives. Arizona's offense hasn't exactly been setting records, but when USC holds any Pac-10 team to negative-16 yards rushing and 154 total yards – it doesn't get any more dominating than that. I watched Penn State-Ohio State earlier in the day, where there are some highly touted defenses and great players (particularly linebackers), but I have yet to see a defense this year as dominant as USC's, and there is no team in the country with better linebackers.

I will go further and flat out declare that Rey Maualuga is the best linebacker in the country – period. We are watching something very special when watching Maualuga, and I urge anyone reading this to enjoy watching him play. Just like watching Reggie Bush last year, Maualuga is that type of special.

With USC's defense (and Arizona's unproductive offense), I never worried about this game or ever doubted that USC would walk away with the win. But the fact that the game was as close as it was gives me some concern. Any educated Trojan fan would have told you that we'd end up in a close game sooner or later – whether because of turnovers, a slow start or otherwise – but I'm a bit worried that the offensive struggles aren't over.

Booty and the passing game have shown flashes of greatness, but have a long way to go, especially when it comes to getting the ball quickly to the 2nd or 3rd receiver in a pattern. And while the offensive line is good, it is not yet near last year's line (which may be an unfair comparison, but regardless, expectations have been set). The team's staple run (the "bend" or designed cutback play off of zone blocking) is being stuffed more than last year as the push from the front isn't quite what we were used to with Lutui, Justice and Matua. Many of the good runs against Arizona were due solely to Emmanuel Moody's elusiveness, and many times he juked his way out of what would have been tackles for loss. The question is, how long does it take this young offense, which is gaining experience each week but also getting hit with injuries, to start playing at a high level consistently? Time will tell.

So what are the key questions?

1. Will USC find itself in a close game prior to November against a team where the outcome is actually in question?

2. Will the defense continue to dominate as it has been doing when we start facing some of the more productive Pac-10 offenses, particularly ones that may try to challenge the SC secondary?

3. If USC gets into a game where, late in the game, it needs its offense to drive down the field and score… will it deliver?

If the answer to question #1 is "no," then we may have to wait for the home games in November to see big tests for this team and potentially see answers to #2 and #3. But if I had to pick one game in the next month where I saw the biggest threat, it would actually be the one we have this coming week – on the road at Washington State (the Cougars are a good team, with a 3-1 record, the only loss being at Auburn, and coming off of a 36-10 victory at Stanford where they put up 469 yards of offense and recorded 8 sacks on defense).

A lot of fun things to watch this week: Fullback anyone? How is Jarrett's shoulder? Is Moody the man? Onto week four!

Jeremy Hogue is a former Academic All-American offensive lineman at USC who started 28 games over the course of his career, including the 1996 Rose Bowl victory over Northwestern. Jeremy later graduated from Harvard Law School and is now CEO of Sovereign Healthcare. Beginning this month, he will also serve as the Trojan analyst for the Fox Sports West USC Live shows following Trojan games. His column will appear after each game on WeAreSC.


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