This isn't rocket science, people. We're making this much more complicated than it needs to be. As the college football season hits the halfway point, the biggest question is this: Can anyone beat two-time defending national champion Southern California? Actually, there are any number of ways to knock off the top-ranked Trojans, to terminate the winning streak they extended to 27 games with their ho-hum 42-21 victory over Arizona last Saturday. � Most Angelenos know that fifth-year USC quarterback Matt Leinart is close friends with Nick Lachey, whose publicist has been working overtime denying that the former second tenor for 98� is splitting with his wife, Jessica Simpson. But what if there's something to the rumors that Lachey has been crashing at Leinart's apartment? What if, to get his buddy through these tough times, Leinart stays up late, nodding sympathetically as Lachey wonders what happened to the simple, down-home girl with whom he starred in the MTV reality show Newlyweds? What if, in trying to buck up his friend--assuring Lachey, for instance, that his 2003 solo album, SoulO, was a profoundly underappreciated work--Leinart loses too much sleep? He starts nodding off during film sessions, yawning his way through practice. His preparation suffers. The streak is doomed.
Sure, there are more prosaic ways to take down the Trojans. The problem is, none of the tactics used by Southern Cal's opponents have been working. USC's last loss came in Berkeley on Sept. 27, 2003, when Cal's Tyler Fredrickson nailed a 38-yard field goal in the third overtime, snapping the Trojans' winning streak at 11 games. The Bears' quarterback that day was Aaron Rodgers, who is now backing up Brett Favre in Green Bay. Asked recently how to beat the national champs, Rodgers tendered several suggestions, starting with:
?KEEP THEIR OFFENSE OFF THE FIELD
Rodgers did his part last October by completing an NCAA-record-tying 23 straight passes in Cal's 23-17 loss at the L.A. Coliseum. While most of those throws were dinks that did no great harm, they moved the chains and kept Leinart & Co. on the bench; the Bears held the ball for 37:11 and ran 79 plays to USC's 50. When the Trojans' offense is on the field, Rodgers adds, "make 'em one-dimensional. Make them run, or make them throw, and take the other one away."
That's what Cal tried to do last season, as it undertook one of the most difficult missions in college football:
?CONTAIN REGGIE BUSH
That refrain, so often spouted by USC opponents whom Bush then proceeds to eviscerate, calls to mind Mark Twain's observation, "Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." The Bears didn't merely talk about corralling Bush; they did it by rejecting one of the basic tenets of defensive football.
"Some teams just emphasize gang tackling," says Cal defensive line coach Ken Delgado. In trying to bring Bush down, all 11 Bears defenders did not fly to the ball. "Every time he gets a touch, it's like a kickoff," says Delgado. "You have to be very conscious of your pursuit lanes." Rather than converge on him, the Cal players not closest to Bush remained evenly spaced on the field, making them better positioned to deal with what Delgado describes as his "radical cuts and reverses of field." The strategy worked. The Bears limited Bush to 23 rushing yards on eight carries.
Be careful what you wish for, though. Taking away the run against the Trojans means you intend to:
?MAKE A HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER