Coach's Corner

Just got back from my scouting trip to Pullman and wanted you to know the USC Trojans are still a really talented football team, although their schedule probably has more to do with their 4-0 record than does their combined ability. They easily handled the Cougars, who are better than they were last year, but still not good enough to be beating teams like USC.

They may not good enough to beat anyone left on their schedule.

The Trojans got a balanced performance from their offense, gaining 285 yards rushing and 328 yards passing. For those of us who need a calculator for numbers that big, that's 613 total yards on the day. Was the Cougar defense that bad? Well, honestly, yes. They were terrible tacklers all day long, and even though they had a wonderful opening drive that was nine plays for 80 yards and touchdown, they immediately gave up two touchdowns in a span of 10 seconds and never came close again.

Surprisingly, the Trojans' star on the day wasn't any of their star running backs but rather their fullback, Stanley Havili, who took their first offensive play of the game 59 yards for a touchdown. There were three obvious missed tackles on that one play by Cougars and that pretty much set the tone for the game. The Cougar defenders were constantly being pushed around and were plagued all day by missed tackles.

Following Havili's score, the Cougar quarterback, Jeff Tuel, served up an interception for a touchdown, and the game was basically over right then. As impressive as the Trojans' performance was I really feel the outcome was more reflective of how poorly the Cougar defense was, because once USC hit 50, Lane Kiffin pulled the plug and let his bench finish the game. They quit throwing downfield and simply showcased their true freshman tailback, Dillon Baxter, who I think is a special player.

San Diego's Baxter, who was considered one of the best high school backs in the country last year, finished with 75 yards on 14 carries. Both Havili and Allen Bradford outrushed him on the day, but Baxter showed why many consider him to be the best at USC since Reggie Bush. He is indeed special, although not nearly as physical as Bradford and Marc Tyler who are both 230 pounders. C.J. Gable, a former starter for the Trojans, is now fourth on the depth chart, but he got seven carries. Interestingly, their quarterback, Matt Barkley, didn't rush the ball once. Havili averaged 20 yards per attempt, while Bradford averaged 12 yards per carry.

Barkley showed poise and control of the game, but threw two picks in the first half and would have thrown four if it weren't for the fact that the Cougar defenders dropped two sure ones. Barkley finished 16 of 25 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, as the Trojans used nine different receivers.

The most impressive of their receivers is Ronald Johnson, who looks like an NFL player to me. He isn't the biggest at 6 feet and 185 pounds, but he can also return punts and has great acceleration both into and out of his breaks. Johnson caught five passes to tie Havili for most catches, including a touchdown. He is complimented on the other side by a true freshman speedster in Robert Woods, who reminds me of Jermaine Kearse in size and ability but with better speed.

The Trojans still use a lot of play action and Barkley is adept at immediately finding his receivers, although he was questionable in some of his decision making early in the game. He doesn't appear to be a run threat. They replaced him with Mitch Mustain in the fourth quarter and he too was effective, completing 4 for 5 and 1 touchdown.

Although his team easily won I didn't see the dominating performance from Barkley. Many of his throws were off the mark, and most of the yardage was from runs after catch coming off missed tackles.

I went down to the field to do an eye check, and whereas the Trojans looked more impressive than the Cougars they did not look like the Nebraska kids. Because of the heat, the Trojans rolled lots of bodies through their defensive line and registered three sacks on the day. The Cougars had zero. They played mainly a four-man front with lots of cover-two zone behind it. Consequently, the Cougars had lots of success throwing into the middle behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. USC did blitz frequently but they often gave it away and the Cougars would immediately go to their inside receivers.

As a group, the Cougar receivers are probably their best unit, and Tuel regularly completed passes against the USC zone. The Cougars went with their no-huddle approach but really didn't push the tempo.

I thought there were many times when the USC defenders looked tired and were standing around, but the Cougars never snapped it early. If Washington could call two plays in a row and use some tempo, I think it would work against their front. Although much bigger than Washington's front, the Trojans don't appear to be at the same level of conditioning as the Huskies and maybe not giving them a breather would work.

The Cougars were unable to get any kind of a run game going, but there were some creases that the Cougar backs simply missed. The Trojan linebackers are good but not as impressive as they have been in the last few years. Still, it was tough to evaluate because the Cougars only rushed the ball 26 times for 67 yards.

USC starts a true freshman corner, Nickell Robey, who at 5-foot-8 and a buck-sixty-five looks vulnerable with his size, but it was Robey who jumped in front of a Cougar pass in the second series of the day and took it to the house. He plays opposite of Shareece Wright, who is the only senior on the back end of their defense.

Considering that Hawaii put up 36 points on them and they struggled to beat both Virginia and Minnesota, it is obvious USC's secondary is still settling in. They do disguise some, but mostly they play in cover-two and occasionally play two-man or a straight cover-four. Tuel actually ended up being the Cougars' leading rusher so you have to think Jake will really challenge them running. The Trojans had been giving up over 400 yards per game before the Cougar game and still gave up 323 despite their romp.

Number 40, Rhett Ellison, is a solid tight end, but only caught one pass for 29 yards. He looked solid blocking, but doesn't appear to be the receiving threat that they have had at that position in the past. He is critical to their running game and they still have the sweep, power, and zone plays they've always run. They will try to out flank you and quick snap a toss play.

One positive is that offensively they are really similar to Washington in many things they do. That should give the Huskies a little better idea of what to expect because Washington practices against it every day.

The kicking game will continue to present a challenge, because the Trojans are real aggressive and somewhat tricky in their approach. Washington has obviously been suffering on special teams and they will be forced to really tighten up their preparation for the Trojans. USC blocked both a punt and an extra point against WSU, so the Husky protection schemes will need to be solid, and their kick coverage greatly improved, which has been dismal at best through their first three games.

It was hard to evaluate their punter, Jacob Harfman, because he never punted once in the game. Yes, the Cougar defense was that bad. I did watch him in pre-game and knew going in that he was averaging just over 41 yards per attempt with three of his 12 punts being downed inside the 20.

A strange thing is that both their punter and their kicker wear the same number, 10, so it's sometimes confusing as to who is doing what. The punter, Harfman, also kicks off, and that's where you could see his leg strength as he nailed most of his kickoffs through the endzone. Two kicks completely sailed out the back. Their place kicker, Joe Houston, has missed more than he has made this season, and also missed a 39-yarder against the Cougs, so that might be an edge for Washington.

On extra points, the Huskies better be prepared for trickery because the Trojans always line up split all over the place with four one way, four the other and the snapper holder and kicker all in the middle. They will vary it, but if you don't match up then they will automatically go for two with usually the holder running or throwing. They tried it once against WSU and scored via a Mustain run. I've also seen them do the same thing in an earlier game.

Ronald Johnson is also an excellent punt returner, averaging almost 20 yards per return, including one of 89 and a touchdown. He did not return any vs. WSU, but defensive end Wes Horton did, taking one back 24 yards. Robert Woods has also returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in an earlier game, so the Huskies need to really improve in their kick coverage or they could lose the game right there.

After watching two of their first three games on tape and then seeing them play in person, I think the Trojans are dangerous in all three phases of the game. On talent alone, they are still a better team than Washington, although the gap is narrowing. USC only lists 73 players on their travel roster, and of those only 12 are true freshmen and nine are red shirt freshmen. They had a few desertions immediately following their sanctions, but regardless are still loaded at the skill positions. I think they are better on the offensive side than on their defense.

Believe me, Pete Carroll left a much better cupboard of talent for Kiffin than Tyrone Willingham did for Steve Sarkisian. The Trojans will still be heavily favored in this game, and any victory by Washington is going to be an upset.

Barkley is still a question mark, a lot like Jake Locker is. He threw two picks to the Cougars and two picks to Minnesota in a game that the Trojans had to come from behind at the end to win. Going home will probably help him, but it should've been four picks against the Cougs. If he plays like that then the Dawgs will have a chance. Of course Jake will have to play like he did last year for Washington to win but he should be better just because of two weeks preparation. The Nebraska game is well in his rearview mirror.

I know the Huskies' win last year was the biggest win for the program in years, but a win in LA will top that one. The Trojans are still impressive-looking but not as much as Nebraska, and they have been vulnerable - especially early in games - on the defensive side of the ball. They are also a heavily-penalized team, and that could help Washington. The Huskies will need to win the turnover battle to win this game and they will have to run the ball more and better than WSU did. That won't be hard.

The Cougars worked the bubble screen, or quick screen, outside with some success and did move the ball through the air but just couldn't hold up defensively.

USC will lose some games this year, and the first one might as well be this coming Saturday.


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