He now runs his own Scouting Consulting business where he scouts NFL and College personnel for NFL teams and help Universities and NFL teams in their Coaching evaluations and Searches. He can be heard nationally on FOX Sports Radio as their college football and NFL analyst.
What is your impression of how LSU has handled their coaching search?
They have done a very thorough job in all regards to the search. They have tested the interest level of most all of the top coaches in the country and have narrowed the list down considerably and will likely have something done by the end of next week at the latest. The candidates include those at both the college and NFL level.
Who has the best shot at the Syracuse job?
New Athletic Director Daryl Gross comes from USC and will try and lure Trojans offensive coordinator Norm Chow to his first college head coaching opportunity. Should Chow opt not to head east, they may try and lure UConn coach and former Syracuse assistant Randy Edsall with a lot of money but it may be out of their range since UConn has made quite a financial commitment with regards to facility upgrades etc.
Taking a look at some of the Big Bowl Matchups?
Capitol One Bowl----LSU vs Iowa
LSU believes in using their power running game to set up the play-action package. With RBs Alley Broussard and Joseph Addai share carries, it gives them the debt necessary to wear out opponents. Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher can help Broussard get to the edge by pulling an offensive lineman around the corner. Broussard is patient and reads his blocks well. Look for Fisher to put the play-side receiver in motion and use him to block down on the outside linebacker, when Addai comes into the game and the Tigers attack the perimeter. The corner covering the receiver will generally slide inside, giving Addai a better opportunity to turn the corner. In addition, the motion creates a good blocking angle for the receiver. Finding a way to neutralize talented WLB Chad Greenway will be critical to LSU's success running the ball.
Marcus Randall is expected to start at quarterback, but will continue to share time with JaMarcus Russell. Both have been inconsistent. The Tigers can't afford to lose the turnover battle so it's important that they make sound decisions. Iowa DE Matt Roth and DT Jonathan Babineaux have combined for 16 sacks. Both have the burst to consistently hurry Randall and Russell. The Tigers will help their quarterbacks by running some multiple-receiver sets out of a shotgun formation with three receivers lining up to the same side of the field. Spreading the defense and flooding one side of the field will create single-coverage match ups, which should allow Randall and Russell to get rid of the ball quickly. The shotgun formation will give Randall and Russell a better view of the defense. LSU will also roll its mobile quarterbacks out of the pocket, giving them the option to run when nothing is available downfield. The Hawkeyes must play with discipline. They can't allow Randall or Russell to break contain and must stay in coverage until the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage.
Iowa has struggled running the ball all year long. The Hawkeyes should continue to have problems moving the ball on the ground against a talented Tigers' front seven. LDT Claude Wroten has the bulk to anchor against double teams and RDT Kyle Williams is strong for his size. Their ability to control the middle of the line of scrimmage allows the talented linebackers to flow to the ball without having to fight through a lot of traffic. However, it's important that offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe give RB Sam Brownlee 20 carries. O'Keefe must keep LSU honest or the Tigers will be extremely aggressive rushing sophomore QB Drew Tate. One of the ways O'Keefe can help open up the running game is to run some misdirection and draws. The Tigers' defense is predicated on aggressively filling gaps. If you get caught out of position, they could give up some long runs.
Tate has the difficult task of starting his first bowl game against one of the premier defenses in the nation. He won't have much of a running game to ease his workload. Giving him enough time to go through his reads will be one of the biggest keys to the Hawkeyes' success moving the ball though the air. DE Marcus Spears, who has nine sacks, is questionable with a hip injury. Even if he plays, the injury could affect his mobility and explosiveness. However, LSU will throw a number of different looks at Tate, which could cause him to hold onto the ball a little longer. In addition, the Tigers will blitz from different areas of the field, and the Tigers will have success getting to Tate when Iowa doesn't make the necessary adjustments in pass protection. The Hawkeyes will run some max-protect schemes to try and counter this. Chris Jackson handles both the punting and place kicking duties for LSU. Jackson has shown excellent range, connecting on two field goal attempts beyond 50 yards, but his accuracy is inconsistent. He has connected on just nine of his 15 field goal attempts. He is averaging 39.5 yards per punt and has placed 11 of his 46 punts inside the opponents' 20-yardline. RS Skyler Green has yet to provide the big play as a kickoff returner and is averaging fewer yards per punt return than Hinkel. However, Green did return a punt for a touchdown earlier this year and the Hawkeyes can't afford to underestimate his explosiveness.
Iowa PK Kyle Schlicher doesn't have ideal leg strength and has had two of his field goal attempts blocked. He has missed just one of his 18 field goal attempts inside 40 yards. P David Bradley has been solid, averaging 39.5 yards per punt and placing 15 of his 59 punts inside the opponents' 20-yardline. PR Ed Hinkel hasn't made many big plays, but is reliable. KOR Damian Sims is averaging a respectable 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Iowa's strong defense and quality special teams' play will keep the game close, but its lack of balance on offense will prove costly. The ability of LSU to shutdown the Hawkeyes' running game with is front seven, will allow LSU to use his safeties to provide safety help over the top. LSU also has the personnel at corner to play some aggressive man coverage and blitz when the opportunity presents itself.
Against the multiple coverage looks, expect Tate to take some sacks and make some critical mistakes. The Tigers' running game will be productive enough to take some pressure off Randall and Russell. Look for Randall to have a strong performance and make enough plays for LSU to get the win.
Fiesta Bowl---Utah vs Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh runs a version of the West Coast offense that frequently uses a quick-hitting passing attack to supplement its ground game. Expect the Panthers to show a strong commitment to the run in this game. Giving RB Raymond Kirkley and FB Troy Murphy a combined 20-plus carries will help Pittsburgh control the clock and effectively limit Utah's opportunities to put points on the board. Both Kirkley and Murphy are capable of producing against a Utes' run defense that is giving up an average of four yards per carry. Consistently handing them the ball should create shorter third down conversion attempts, which will effectively take pressure off QB Tyler Palko. One of the ways the Panthers will try to help both of their backs when they attack the perimeter is to pull the front-side guard around the play-side corner. This will put undersized OLBs Spencer Toone and Corey Dodds in a bind. They lack the bulk to anchor at the point of attack, but they'll create a running lane if they try to avoid the block altogether. Palko's mobility and touch make him a good fit for this scheme, but he is inconsistent and will occasionally try to make too much happen. As a result, look for Pittsburgh to run a lot of three-step drops and screens early in an effort to get Palko into a rhythm.
Utah's defense will counter in two ways. The first is playing some press coverage and giving the corners safety help over the top. With the safety providing support downfield, the corner can afford to be aggressive. Getting physical with the receivers will disrupt their timing and force Palko to throw into tighter spaces. The second way the Utes' will try to exploit Palko's weaknesses is to blitz. It's critical that the Panthers make the necessary adjustments in pass protection, or Palko will need to make some difficult decisions under pressure. This could lead to a costly turnover. In addition, dropping eight men into coverage will keep Palko off-balance, forcing him to hold onto the ball a little longer.
Pittsburgh has had plenty of time to prepare for Utah's complex ground game, but that doesn't mean it will be able to slow it down. Discipline will be the key, as the Utes will throw a number of different looks at the Panthers' aggressive one-gap scheme. Utah generally spreads the field, running out of one-back or empty backfield set. Stretching the defense horizontally helps isolates defenders, forcing them to take good pursuit angles and tackle well in the open field. The Utes will fake handoffs to RB Marty Johnson and then run an option with the slot receiver. They will also fake quarterback-keeps and run traditional dives, isolation plays and sweeps with Johnson. QB Alex Smith possesses excellent recognition skills and generally makes sound decisions with the football. Smith will make Pittsburgh's defenders pay for getting caught out of position. In addition, Johnson is an excellent fit for a one-back scheme because he is a powerful runner who brings his own block. The Panthers must make sure to wrap him up or he will regularly pick up yards after contact.
Pittsburgh is aggressive and likes to play eight or nine men in the box. However, expect defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes to take a different approach against Utah. Rhodes doesn't have the depth or personnel to leave his corners on islands when the Utes go to their four and five-receiver sets. That means he can't use a safety in a run support role without risking getting beat deep. Smith does an excellent job of quickly exploiting favorable single-coverage match ups when opposing teams blitz, and has the quick feet to buy time in the pocket. Look for Rhodes to stay relatively conservative on obvious passing downs. Utah's receivers excel at working back to Smith when he moves out of the pocket or the play breaks down. As a result, he doesn't have to throw the ball as far downfield when passing on the move and generally picks up a few blocks when he runs.
Expect Utah to prove it belongs in this game, while also helping to prove the theory that the BCS' automatic bowl bid system is flawed. A Panthers' pass defense that has been among the worst in the nation will have problems slowing down Smith. Once the passing game is established, Johnson and Smith will have more room to run. Pittsburgh's conservative offense will keep the score close in the first half, but the Panthers will eventually abandon the running game in an effort to come back and Palko isn't capable of keeping pace with Smith.
Rose Bowl---Michigan vs Texas
Michigan's fate rests in the play of two freshmen. QB Chad Henne and RB Michael Hart need to have strong games. Texas hopes senior RB Cedric Benson can power them to one more victory. Texas defense is giving up an average of just over three yards per carry. WLB Derrick Johnson is this year's Butkus Award winner and has the burst to prevent Hart from turning the corner. However, the Wolverines have one of the best offensive linemen in the nation in OC David Baas and it's critical they stay committed to the running game. The biggest key to Michigan's success between the tackles will be Baas' ability to help his offensive guards get into position, before releasing up to the second level. That won't be easy because LDT Rodrigue Wright's combination of size and quickness makes him extremely disruptive. Baas is a co-recipient of the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top collegiate center. He plays with a mean streak and is an excellent drive blocker. With Baas leading the way, the interior offensive line should be able to create enough of a seam for Hart to pick up three to four yards per carry when he runs inside. That production is good enough to set up shorter third down conversion attempts, effectively taking pressure off Henne. It will also put pressure on Texas to move an eighth defender into the box, making it vulnerable to play action.
Look for the Wolverines to take some chances downfield early. Stretching the defense vertically will help to open up the running game, as well as the short-to-intermediate passing game, by forcing the Longhorns' safeties to play a little deeper. Taking some chances off play action will also make Texas' back seven a little less aggressive attacking the line of scrimmage.
The Longhorns' will likely give their corners safety help over the top in an effort to prevent the big play. However, Michigan has the depth at receiver to create some single-coverage matchups by flooding one side of the field when it runs its multiple-receiver sets. Sending two or three receivers to one side puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the safety covering that half of the field. If he commits to helping one corner too early, he will leave the other corner on an island. However, he can't wait too long because he may not be able to get into position. It's also important to note that Henne must be careful when throwing underneath, as Akina and Robinson will run zone blitzes. Henne must be aware that a defensive lineman could be dropping into coverage when he reads blitz, or he could make a costly mistake.
Texas will run early and often. The Longhorns like to spread the field and run out of the shotgun formation. The formation gives QB Vince Young a better view of the defense. Young possesses good vision and giving him a second longer to read the defense affords him with a better opportunity to locate any weaknesses. Spreading the field will force Michigan's outside linebackers to cover more ground, creating seams for Young and Benson. Both have the burst through the hole to take advantage. These formations force the Wolverines to play some man coverage, should they move a safety up to the line of scrimmage. That will make them vulnerable to giving up the big play in the passing game. Young has the arm strength to make them pay when he gets enough time. In addition, the Longhorns will keep Michigan off-balance with some misdirection and fake hand-off quarterback keeps. The Wolverines' front seven must play with discipline.
Michigan had all kinds of problems against mobile Ohio State QB Troy Smith in the regular season finale. Young has the elusiveness to make the first defender miss and the speed to bust some long runs when contain breaks down. Michigan can't sit back in conservative schemes in the hopes of keeping Young in the pocket. Young has the mobility to buy his receivers enough time to get open when Michigan rushes four, and the powerful arm to make plays on the move. Look for defensive coordinator Jim Hermann to take more chances than he did against the Buckeyes.
Hermann should focus on attacking the edges of Texas' offensive line, when he does bring additional pressure, because that should force Young to step up in the pocket. With that in mind, Hermann may rush his outside linebackers more than usual. The key for the outside linebackers will be to take good angles to Young, so he doesn't get outside of them.
Michigan PK Garrett Rivas has shown adequate range but has been somewhat inconsistent, connecting on 16 of his 21 field goal attempts. Although P Adam Finley, who is averaging 43.1 yards, doesn't have the most powerful leg, he is averaging 43.1 yards per punt. RS Steve Breaston is always a threat to make something happen when he has the ball in his hands, and he returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this year.
Texas PK Dusty Mangum has good leg strength and connected on two field goals beyond 50 yards. However, he has missed two field goal attempts inside 40 yards. P Richmond McGee is averaging 39.7 yards per punt, and placed nine of his 45 punts inside the opponents' 20-yardline. The Longhorns need more from their return game. RS Ramonce Taylor is averaging just 14.8 yards per kickoff return and has yet to make an impact in his limited opportunities to return punts. Don't be surprised to see Aaron Ross return some punts.
The ability of Michigan to slow down Young is obviously very questionable, considering its struggles against Smith. However, the Wolverines' performance in that game may actually help them more than it hurts. Michigan has had six weeks to break that game down and eliminate any mistakes, so it should be in a better position to keep Young under wraps. In addition, its superior offensive balance will keep a talented Texas defense on its heels. Benson will help keep the score close, but look for the Wolverines to get the upset in the end.
Sugar Bowl---Auburn vs Virginia Tech
Auburn has a significant size advantage upfront. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has done an outstanding job of overcoming a lack of bulk and strength along his defensive line, by using a lot of eight-man fronts with blitzing linebackers and safeties. The Hokies rely heavily on man-coverage on the perimeter, which allows foster to cheat SS James Griffin up near the line. The Hokies are active and quick upfront. They also have very good tackling ILBs in Mikal Baaqee and Vince Hall, who have combined for 125 stops on the season. However, the size and versatility of the Auburn running game should make things more difficult on Foster's unit.
The Tigers average nearly 40 more pounds across their offensive line than the Hokies do along their defensive line. OT Marcus McNeill (332 pounds) and OG Ben Grubbs (302 pounds) give the Tigers a big advantage against Hokies' DT Jonathan Lewis (289 pounds) and DE Darryl Tapp (265 pounds). The depth of Auburn's receiving corps and Brown's versatility, should allow the Tigers to spread out the Hokies' defense, forcing them out of their overloaded defensive fronts. If Foster fails to respect Brown's receiving ability and keeps his base personnel on the field, Campbell will pick the Hokies apart through the air. If Foster uses more nickel and dime personnel to match the Tigers' spread formations, the "Cadillac" will get rolling. Either way, the Hokies will be in for a difficult match up on this side of the ball.
Virginia Tech ranks third nationally in pass efficiency defense. Their attacking scheme has led to 32 sacks on the season, which has helped the secondary make plenty of big plays against hurried quarterbacks. DE Darryl Tapp is the Hokies' most explosive pass rusher with eight sacks, but the unit has gotten at least one sack from 12 members. Foster's aggressive approach puts a lot of pressure on his secondary, but the unit has been more than equal to the challenge. FS Vincent Fuller has three interceptions, while DCs Eric Green and Jimmy Williams have combined for five interceptions and 19 passes broken up. The Tigers will stick with their spread formation, as they will look to get as many Virginia Tech defenders out of the box as possible. Auburn's offensive line ranks among the best in college football in terms of pass protection, having allowed just 16 sacks in 12 games. The Tigers don't have an elite receiver who will overwhelm Green and Williams in man-coverage, but their depth and versatility in the passing game will pose problems. In three receiver sets, the slot receiver should often generate mismatches against either FS Fuller or nickel DC Roland Minor. The other potential mismatch in the Tigers' favor will be between Brown and OLB James Anderson. Overall, the Hokies hold an advantage in this facet of the game. The Tigers would be hard-pressed to open things up and throw successfully on every down. However, if the Tigers can get their running game established and can generate some mismatches, Campbell should be able to keep things balanced on his side of the ball.
Opponents have been unable to show a strong commitment to the running game against Auburn, because they have fallen behind early. The Tigers outscored opponents 123-19 in the first quarter this season. Tennessee's patience in the SEC championship was one of the big reasons why it almost pulled off the upset. RBs Gerald Riggs Jr. and Cedric Houston combined for 219 yards on 22 carries. The Hokies cannot afford to get away from the running game. Their biggest advantage in this contest is their size upfront. The Tigers have good depth along their defensive line and do a terrific job of disrupting running plays with their quickness. They also have one of the most athletic linebacking corps in the nation, led by Travis Williams (212 pounds) and Antarrious Williams (210 pounds). The Hokies won't be able to out-run the Tigers with their perimeter running attack, but they should be able to establish a strong solid ground game between the tackles, with the one-two punch of Randall and Imoh. Tech uses a mixture of a traditional attack with two-back sets and shotgun read-option running plays. Randall is asked to make a last minute decision on whether to hand off to his back or keep it himself. The versatility of the scheme should help keep the Tigers more honest than usual. If the Hokies don't total 40 attempts and 200 rushing yards, they will have a difficult time pulling off the upset.
Efficiency is the name of the game for Virginia Tech's passing attack. It has increased the emphasis on throwing the football as the season has progressed, but Tech's offense still maintains a heavy emphasis on the run. Randall averages only 22.3 attempts per game, but has completed 55.6 percent of those passes for 19 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. Randall is extremely athletic and buys a lot of second-chance opportunities, which will be critical against a Tigers' pass rush that has notched 35 sacks on the season. Randall also has gotten much more help in the second half of the season from freshmen wide receivers Eddie Royal and Josh Hyman, who have grown up considerably since the start of the season. The Tigers still hold a distinct advantage in this facet of the game. Their defensive front has recorded 28.5 of the team's 35 sacks on the season. The pressure generated by their front four, led by redshirt freshmen DEs Quentin Groves and Stanley McClover (combined 15 sacks), has allowed defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to throw more looks at opponents. DC Carlos Rogers is among the elite man-to-man coverage corners in college football and should be able to erase either Hyman or Royal from the game. This will allow Chizik to roll his coverage to the opposite side to help out sophomore DC Montavis Pitts. With SLB Kevin Sears limiting the Hokies' tight ends in the passing game and athletic LBs Travis Williams and Antarrious Williams covering a lot of ground underneath, Randall won't find many open receivers in this game.
Beamer's teams have historically been known for their extraordinary special teams play, but this year has been somewhat of an exception. PK Brandon Pace has been the lone bright spot, connecting on 21 of 26 on field goal attempts this season. However, the Hokies have only blocked one kick (punt) all season long and their return game has been pedestrian. They ranks 25th nationally on kickoff returns and 58th on punt returns. Royal and Imoh do provide some big play potential in the kickoff return game, but Royal hasn't been as explosive on punt returns. PT Vinnie Burns has been inconsistent, averaging just 40 yards per punt. He'll have his hands full in this game, as Carnell Williams is a legitimate threat. Williams is averaging 11.7 yards per punt return.
As a whole, the Tigers have been a lot more consistent on special teams. Williams and Aromashodu headline a kickoff return team that ranks 29th in the nation. John Vaughn wrestled the placekicking duties away from Philip Yost and hasn't looked back. Yost still kicks off and has a strong leg, while Vaughn has connected on 9 of 12 FGAs on the Season. PT Kody Bliss has been another bright spot on special teams for Auburn, as the sophomore is averaging 42.3 yards per punt and has landed 16 of 43 attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Auburn's coverage teams have also been excellent, as the Tigers' net punting ranks 29th nationally. The Hokies have been able to overcome their lack of production in the air by running the ball successfully. That could come to an end, against an Auburn defense with more speed than any other unit the Hokies have faced all season. The problem that most defenses have against Virginia Tech's speedy young receivers is they lack the corners to leave alone on an island.
With Rogers at right cornerback, Chizik can play a 5-3 front with Sears on the line of scrimmage and SS Junior Rosegreen essentially as an outside linebacker. Auburn has used this aggressive scheme to limit opponents to just 106.5 rushing yards per game to this point. Chizik can be even more aggressive than usual against a Virginia Tech offense ranked 93rd in the nation in passing. The Tigers will have some problems of their own against a Hokies' defense that can load up versus the run. However, the Tigers are just so much more versatile on offense, with Williams and Brown at running back and a corps of talented receivers. This should be one of the most physical matchups of the bowl season. The Tigers just have more weapons on offense and better athletes on defense. Don't expect a letdown from Tuberville's team. Auburn will look to make a statement against the Hokies after getting snubbed from the Orange Bowl
Orange Bowl--- USC vs. Oklahoma
The Trojans' running attack is versatile. They can run between the tackles with 235-pound RB Lendale White, or they can hand the ball off to the more elusive and explosive Bush. This match up will largely depend on what defensive looks the Sooners come out with. Oklahoma ranks fifth nationally in run defense. The Sooners typically play an aggressive scheme that calls for a lot of eight-man fronts, with blitzing linebackers and safeties. If they stay true to coach Stoops' scheme, the Trojans won't have much room to operate. SS Donte Nicholson and FS Brodney Pool are strong versus the run. Pool actually leads the team with 85 total tackles and Nicholson is fourth with 66. Because of their excellent tackling skills, the Sooners can cheat either safety up to the line of scrimmage, in order to generate a 4-4 look. With Lance Mitchell anchoring the middle and DEs Cody and Jonathan Jackson wreaking havoc on the perimeter, White and Bush won't find much running room. The Sooners only weakness against the run is at defensive tackle, where they've had to break in two new starters (Lynn McGruder and Carl Pendleton) and have poor depth. If the Sooners adjust their scheme to play more cover two, with Nicholson and Pool playing the deep middle halves of the field, USC will need to run between the tackles. The Trojans might surprise people with their ability to gobble up yards behind massive OGs John Drake (350 pounds) and Fred Matua (310 pounds).
Cal did the best job of any defense this season of limiting Leinart in the passing game, and did so by using more zone coverage within a cover-2 principle. In doing so, it forced Leinart to make a lot of short throws, while also keeping Bush in check with five defenders (two corners and three linebackers) working the underneath zones. As a result, the Sooners might employ a more conservative defensive scheme.
If the Sooners do opt to use a more conservative scheme, it will likely limit the big plays for Leinart in the passing game. However, it will put a lot of pressure on their front four to generate its own pass rush and their front seven to hold up versus the run. If the Sooners elect to stick with their aggressive schemes, the pressure will be on Leinart to consistently beat the blitz. Oklahoma has done a terrific job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks with the blitz. Cody and Jackson have combined for 17 of the team's 38 sacks on the season but 14 different defenders have chipped in with at least one sack. That variety speaks to the aggressiveness of the Sooners' blitz package.
If they continue to take chances, the Sooners might be opening themselves up to a lot of mismatches. Leinart doesn't have great mobility or arm strength, but he's one of the nation's premier quarterbacks when it comes to recognizing and beating the blitz. With Jarrett giving the Trojans a huge size advantage over Perkins on one side, and Smith back healthy at the "flanker" position, Leinart has the weapons to exploit man-coverage vertically on the perimeter. Also, Bush will become a bigger threat as a receiver, as the blitz will open up zones underneath. Finally, with Holmes and Byrd at the tight end position, Leinart has the weapons he needs to pick apart a Sooners' back seven that has had its fair share of trouble in coverage this season.
Offensively, the Sooners will look to establish Peterson, who is averaging 152.8 rushing yards per contest, against a USC run defense that ranks second in the nation, allowing just 75.3 yards per game. The Sooners use mostly zone-blocking schemes in their running attack and do a good job of getting Peterson moving straight ahead. Oklahoma has two outstanding run-blocking tackles in LOT Wes Sims and ROT Jammal Brown, but the unit lacks of size in the middle. OC Vince Carter (294 and LOG Chris Bush (284 pounds) will have problems against one of the nation's best DT tandems in Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. If Cody and Patterson can use their initial quickness and power to disrupt the Sooners' zone-blocking scheme, Peterson won't be nearly as effective in this game as he was throughout the regular season. The Trojans are undersized at linebacker, but MLB Lofa Tatupu and WLB Matt Grootegoed are instinctive, active and tough. If Cody and Patterson can keep blockers off Tatupu and Grootegoed, it will allow them to prevent Peterson from turning the corner as an outside runner. As good as the Sooners have been at establishing the run this season, USC's combination of size and quickness in the middle, and athleticism at linebacker, should present Peterson with one of his toughest challenges to date.
The Trojans' pass defense is excellent down the middle. It gets consistent pressure from DTs Cody and Patterson, who have combined for 15 sacks on the season. It has excellent athleticism at the linebacker position with Grootegoed and Tatupu, who have combined for seven interceptions this season. It also has reliable playmakers at safety with Jason Leach and Darnell Bing. The question is how well the Trojans will hold up on the perimeter. For starters, they don't have the athletes at defensive end to get consistent pressure off the edges against OTs Brown and Sims. Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson have improved as the season has progressed, but neither is an elite perimeter pass rusher. If the Trojans sit back in coverage, it will give White the time he needs to spray the ball around the field to his deep receiving corps of Clayton, Wilson, Jones, Mark Bradley and Will Peoples, who have combined for 170 receptions this season.
If the Trojans go after White with the blitz, they have the linebackers and safeties to hold up down the middle. However, DCs Wyatt, Eric Wright and Kevin Arbet could be exposed for their lack of ideal man-to-man coverage skills. The Trojans will be overwhelmed by the Sooners' spread passing attack. If they can't get to White on a consistent basis and force him out of his rhythm, USC's secondary could be in for a long evening.
The Trojans have a slight edge in the kicking game. Ryan Killeen started off slowly, hitting 7 of 16 field goal attempts, but has connected on his last seven tries. Oklahoma's Trey DiCarlo has suffered through a disappointing season as a Lou Groze Award finalist in 2003. He connected on just 8 of 16 attempts during the regular season, which is why coach Stoops elected to use freshman PK Garrett Hartley in the Orange Bowl. The Trojans have an advantage in the return game. The Sooners have had a disappointing season in this area, as they rank 61st nationally in punt returns and 84th on kickoff returns. They have explosive potential with Clayton (14.4 ypr average with a 50-yard TD) returning punts. We also could see Antonio Perkins in that role, now that he's had extra time for his knee injury to heal. However, the Sooners have been inconsistent returning punts and flat-out unexciting handling kickoff returns. With Tom Malone, who is averaging 43.8 yards per attempt, handling the punting duties for USC, the Sooners aren't likely to get many opportunities for big plays in the return game. Bush is the primary reason for concern when it comes to the Trojans' return game. The versatile sophomore is averaging 16 yards per punt return, with two touchdowns, and 26.4 yards per kickoff return. Oklahoma PT Blake Ferguson and his coverage teams have been excellent, as the Sooners rank 10th in the nation in net punting (39.1). Regardless, kicking to Bush might be a mistake.
There isn't much that separates these two teams. They both have dynamic offenses, led by two of the nation's elite signal callers, and both have stout run defenses. USC may have an edge with Bush and with their front seven. If the Trojans can keep Peterson in check and generated pressure on White, they will win. Oklahoma will get some big plays on the perimeter because of their athletic advantage at wide receiver. The Trojans must get enough big plays from their pass rush and linebackers and with safeties in coverage.
USC might struggle to establish the run, but Bush gives Leinart the ultimate weapon when it comes to beating the blitz. His explosiveness in the return game will also play a key role. In the end it, will come down to whether Leinart and Bush provide more big plays than White and Peterson.
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