Posted: Tuesday December 13, 2005 2:26PM; Updated: Tuesday December 13, 2005 7:09PM
The teams that gave 'SC the most problems this season were Arizona State, which led 21-3 at halftime; Notre Dame, which led 31-28 with two minutes to play, and Fresno State, which led 42-41 in the fourth quarter. 'SC's issues on defense in '05 can be boiled down to two things:
1) Pressure deficit. While Carroll has been very happy with the play of ends Frostee Rucker and Lawrence Jackson, the Trojans haven't gotten the inside push they came to take for granted last season from Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody, who were selected in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the NFL draft. The Trojans' 32 sacks this season were 18 fewer than last year. The cornerbacks took some heat this season, some of it richly deserved, but part of the problem was a lack of consistent pressure.
But defensive tackles Sedrick Ellis and LaJuan Ramsay have come on strong in the second half of the season. "We all just matured," says Rucker. "Not to say (first year defensive line coach Jethro Franklin) isn't coaching us now, but he doesn't have as much to yell about."
2) Boo boos. Five linebackers missed time due to injuries this season. Two defensive backs were lost for the season -- three if you include Eric Wright, who quit the team over the summer. Josh Pinkard, a converted safety, is the fourth guy to play left cornerback for the Trojans since last spring. Spinal Tap didn't go through that many drummers.
"The problem has never been effort or enthusiasm," Ware told me. "Everybody wants to bang somebody. But we've had some new guys rotating in and out, young kids still adjusting to it, and that can skew things a little bit."
The 32 days between the UCLA game and the Rose Bowl gives everyone a chance to heal. How these guys handle Vince Young will decide the game. One play you know he's going to run until they stop it is something called the "zone read" option. Young takes a snap from the shotgun and reads the defensive end while putting the ball in the running back's belly. If the end stays home, Young hands off. If he's crashing, Young takes it outside. The Longhorns have tied some play-action passes to this.
The Trojans point out that Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens ran a similar option, and they shut him down rather emphatically on Sept. 24 (He was knocked woozy in the second quarter and didn't play in the second half). But when I talked to Clemens last week, he made the very salient point that, well, he's no Vince Young. "Where I couldn't get the corner -- where maybe I'd get tackled for a yard, or a 1-yard loss, I think Vince is going be able to make some plays. And remember, he's got a hell of a tailback right there next to him." (Clemens was referring to Ramonce Taylor, kind of a poor man's Reggie Bush.)
"If you're going to stop Texas, you load up the box and make Vince Young beat you with his arm, which, the way he's thrown the ball this year, he could do," Clemens said.
Unless he tries too hard. Unless he attempts to avenge the events of Dec. 10. Didn't you find Young's reaction to the news of Bush's landslide Heisman win a bit curious? Was he the only North American sports fan who didn't see that coming? In a strange news conference following the ceremony, a joyless Young lamented having let down his teammates, his family, and the good people of Austin and his hometown, Houston. In a shocking omission, he failed to apologize to the campus security officers manning the kiosk outside the football stadium.
"Just between us," my buddy Kirk Bohls wrote in his column in Monday's Austin American-Statesman, "I'm wondering if he will smile again between now and Jan. 4. Vince is angry. And that's a good thing for Texas."
Well, anger always worked well as a motivating force for another Austin-based athlete, Lance Armstrong. Maybe it'll work for Young. Only 22 days until kickoff.