3 Keys to a Trojan Victory

SCPlaybook's Lyle Everett gives you the three keys to a Trojan Victory against a talented team at Arizona. USC's defense has a difficult assignment ahead of them in stopping another undersized running back this week. How will they respond?

1) Stop the inside zone – There is little doubt that the Arizona coaching staff has watched the game film from the Oregon State game with the intent of unleashing their talented and undersized running backs in the same manner as Jacquizz Rodgers. Given the play of Keola Antolin last week against Cal, Zona is looking to score the opportunity of a lifetime in upsetting the Trojans in front of their rabid fans on Homecoming. A win Saturday night gives Stoops and his staff a little more breathing room and perhaps a contract extension.

The reason Oregon State was so successful running the inside zone against USC was mostly due to the defense being pushed around and dominated up front on the defensive line. Coach Carroll and Coach Holt made necessary personnel adjustments by implementing Clay Matthews into the starting lineup and since then, the entire unit has looked much stronger by playing with a purpose and intensity not seen in Corvallis.

Another big reason the inside zone was effective last month was because USC couldn't tackle the little man running the ball. Antolin is just 5'8" and Grigsby is only two inches taller. SC defenders were wrapping high against Rodgers and found that is a tough thing to do when attempting to tackle somebody with such a low center of gravity. SC must learn from their previous mistakes and play with viciousness this week in Tucson.

2) Maintain balance on offense – The Trojans play their best football when they are well balanced on offense. And while it all starts with establishing the run, converting third downs with manageable distances plays deeply into the scheme. It's much easier to convert on 3rd and 4 than 3rd and 10. When you seen SC in 3rd and long situations, rest assured their game plan has failed them and they look to be in trouble. Their offense is simply not designed to convert those types of distances.

Running the football effectively will keep Arizona's defense off balance, which means you can hit them for big gains on 1st downs later on. Their D is very young and has really not been tested all season. Opponents such as UCLA, Washington, New Mexico, Idaho and Toledo aren't exactly lighting up scoreboards this season. Zona's defensive line is very inexperienced, especially within interior DT positions, and their secondary has yet to see receivers as talented as the Trojans'. Patrick Turner, Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson and even Vidal Hazelton have looked flat-out special in practice this week. They are very eager to match up with the Wildcat secondary.

It's time for USC to show Arizona just how successful they are at striking quick. Things will really start to open up for them so long as C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight and Broderick Green bust their D-Line up for early five and six yard gains. An effective running game demoralizes opponents and wears on them both mentally and physically. The Trojans need the right mix play calls to slowly wear on Arizona and come out on top Saturday night.

3) Contain Gronkowski in the red zone – Of the 16 passes Rob Gronkowski has caught this season, 12 have been for first downs while four have gone for touchdowns in the red zone. While only a sophomore, this guy is a very special player. The key to stopping him is running effective zone schemes in the red zone that limit the amount of opportunities he'll have to make catches one-on-one. With Brian Cushing underneath and Taylor Mays above him, SC will look to dare Willie Tuitama to split the coverage and connect with his tight end. Coach Carroll may even let Tuitama see Gronkowski a time or two between the 20's, but he will assuredly put the clamp down on him in the red zone.

The Trojans simply cannot cover Gronkowski man-to-man and shouldn't even try. There isn't a linebacker in the Pac-10 that can run with him and you don't want to use a safety because that leaves the middle of the field open for Mike Thomas and the other Wildcat wide receivers to fill. Saturday night is really a chance for us fans to watch the chess match between Arizona OC Sonny Dykes and Pete Carroll. Should be a lot of fun in the desert.

Prediction: Don't read too much into the first half of this game. Arizona is going to come out fired up for Homecoming. Their fans are going to be alive and well for the 7:15 PM start. Tuitama will guide the offense and move the ball effectively in the first quarter and SC's "bend-but-never-break" defense will be put to the test early. Mark Sanchez will respond with an effective passing game of his own, executing the bootlegs and play action fakes that have defined his junior season thus far. I look for the game to be close at the midway point. The difference will come at halftime, where nobody adjusts better in the locker room than Pete Carroll and his coaching staff. Zona was down 24-14 at halftime last week against Cal and outscored the Golden Bears 28-3 in the second half. We look for USC to have the kind of second half Arizona experienced last week.

USC 34, Arizona 17

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