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It is what they have done in four years under Carroll: stockpile superstars from all over the country. It is a recruiting strategy not without its dangers. "The kind of high-profile kids they're after," says Allen Wallace, national recruiting editor for scout.com, "a lot of those guys aren't going to commit till January." ( Sanchez is an exception.) While the Trojans play the waiting game with those bluer-than-blue chips, second-tier players commit elsewhere. If things don't break their way in the final week, the Trojans could be left scrambling. Says Wallace, "The USC staff is thorough, relentless and willing to take enormous risk."
Maurice Drew, the UCLA tailback who earlier ran for 322 yards against Washington, was on the Trojans' wish list coming out of Northern California power De La Salle High in 2003. He opted for Westwood not because he feared competition from Bush and White, he says, but because he wanted to help build a program from scratch. "Coming from a Number 1 team in high school," he says, "I didn't want to just go right into a Number 1 team in college. I wanted to try to help build a program up."
Others may avoid the Trojans because they fear they'll never see the field. Ed Orgeron, USC's Dline coach and recruiting coordinator, insists that such fear is unfounded. "Really," he says, "we're not that loaded."
"We're loaded at some spots," he concedes. "But we're not loaded at every spot, and guys see that."
Opponents try to see it. Where best to attack the Trojans? Leinart is among the best quarterbacks in the country at recognizing what defenses are trying to do. "You put eight in the box, he throws," says Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "Put seven in the box, he gets them in a running play. You roll [coverage] over to [star freshman wideout Dwayne] Jarrett, he goes to the tight end. He's back there saying, 'You take away that guy, I'll go to this guy.' It's tough to take everybody out of the game, know what I mean?"
One key, says Stoops, is "disguising your defensive looks as long as possible. You can't show him anything presnap, or he'll hurt you."
"We try to change it up on him," says Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory. "Sometimes you bring four, sometimes five; sometimes bring three and drop eight. You can't blitz every time, because if you do, Leinart's gonna kill you. You can't sit back and play cover-three either, 'cause he'll kill you that way. What you want is a mixture of playing zone, playing man, combination man-zone, blitz and blitz-zone."
Gregory tries to strike the balance between having enough in the package that Leinart is kept off-balance "and not having so much that your kids are overwhelmed, with a thousand things to think about."