1 USC

The loss of a slew of starters doesn’t faze the Trojans, whose remaining stars are aligned for another title
August 15, 2004

It is neither a bartender’s tool nor a weapon from Clue. The Dent Icepick, rather, is the name of Shaun Cody’s pet pass-rushing technique. “It’s a countermove,” explains Cody, the Trojans’ senior defensive lineman. “I’m throwing my arm down and denting [cutting] outside, then spinning to the inside.”

Speaking of dents, Southern Cal’s defensive line seemed to suffer some damage with the announcement, shortly after the Rose Bowl, that junior AllAmerica end Kenechi Udeze was entering the NFL draft. Udeze is now a Minnesota Viking, but the unit he left behind will be as good or better in 2004.

How can that be? It starts with Cody, who has moved from tackle to end, from the claustrophobic world of double teams and traps to the relative freedom of the outside. “I’m still down in a three-point stance,” says Cody, “but I get to split out a little wider, where I’m able to rush just one guy--maybe a tight end or even a back.” He smiles, contemplating such a windfall.

While Trojans coach Pete Carroll suspects that Cody will wind up back at tackle in the NFL, he believes the senior will be a star at end and that there will be no drop-off from last season in the performance of the line. On the inside Mike Patterson may have been the most underrated nosetackle in the nation last year. Though he resembles an upright credenza at 6 feet, 290 pounds, Patterson is so quick off the ball, says Cody, that “he makes a lot of centers feel bad about their game.”

Manuel Wright, a sophomore last seen dropping Michigan quarterback John Navarre for an eight-yard sack in the Rose Bowl, will fill Cody’s shoes inside. Who gets the nod at the other end, vacated by the graduated Omar Nazel? Carroll mentions redshirt freshman Lawrence Jackson and junior Frostee Rucker, then adds, a bit too nonchalantly, “Perhaps Jeff Schweiger might figure into it.”

Perhaps? Schweiger, an incoming freshman, is a 6'4", 250pound man-child who had 31 sacks over his last two seasons at San Jose’s Valley Christian High and who was observed, during a visit to campus last spring, alone on the Trojans’ practice field, abusing a blocking sled. Think the lad might be a little hungry?

This defensive line will be better than fine. Its story is the story of SC in ’04. Yes, the Trojans bid farewell to some exceptional athletes throughout the lineup. No, they have not lost sleep. After standout receiver Mike Williams announced his intention to enter the NFL draft as a sophomore, a team meeting was called. Carroll stood before his subdued players and reminded them, “Last year we lost the Heisman Trophy winner [Carson Palmer], our top five running backs, the best defender we may ever play with [Troy Polamalu] and a number of other people. And what happened?” As Carroll recalls the moment, “They kind of quietly muttered, ‘We won the national championship.’”

“The statement was pretty clear,” says Carroll. “This is how we operate. We’re going to move on and do everything we can with what we have and not worry about what we’ve lost.”

What they lost was four fifths of the offensive line, which is more than they had to. Proving that even the hottest program is not immune to the brain cramps of 19year-olds, starting tackle Winston Justice was suspended for the semester by USC after flashing a “replica firearm” at a fellow student. While Cody and Patterson had their way with the rebuilt offensive line early in the spring, the unit gained confidence as practice went on. The talent is there, though it could take the line a few games to come together. The Trojans have that luxury, because if they can survive Virginia Tech’s marauding defense in their Aug. 28 opener, the rest of the schedule looks favorable.

Hoping to take pressure off his callow line is quarterback Matt Leinart, the Heisman candidate who a year ago was a no-name coming into camp with an ever-so-slight edge over three other passers to succeed Palmer. Now Leinart is a wellspring of confidence, helping teammates get aligned, reminding them of their assignments, exuding leadership. To further ease the burden on the line, Leinart will not be as much of a straight drop-back passer as he was last season. He’ll roll out more, zip more quick-hitting passes and rely more heavily on play-action throws. Those are bound to be effective because USC is so loaded in the backfield. No team in the nation has a more talented trio of running backs than junior Hershel Dennis and supersophs Reggie Bush and LenDale White.

It’s a measure of USC’s enviable depth that the loss of 11 starters (12 if one includes Williams, whose status was to be determined by the NCAA on August 11) has done little or nothing to drive down expectations. Yes, both starting cornerbacks are gone. But the candidates to replace them--seniors Ronald Nunn and Kevin Arbet and junior Justin Wyatt--are long on talent and experience. Memo to opposing offensive coordinators: The Trojans defense wants you to throw on them. “When you stop the run,” says Cody, “teams have got to go to the pass, and that’s when we excel.” That’s when Cody settles into his three-point stance and goes with the Dent Icepick. --Austin Murphy

FAST FACTS

2003 RECORD 12–1 (7–1, 1st in Pac-10)

FINAL AP RANK 1

RETURNING STARTERS 10

KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)

QB Matt Leinart (Jr.)

Set Pac-10 record with 38 touchdown passes

DT Mike Patterson (Sr.)

Seven sacks from inside position

LB Lofa Tatupu (Jr.)

Top Trojans tackler with 98

LB Matt Grootegoed (Sr.)

Onetime safety is four-year starter at LB

RB LenDale White (Soph.)

Found end zone 13 times as a freshman

TELLING NUMBER

60.2

Rushing yards per game allowed by the Trojans’ defense last season, a mark that led the nation and broke the school record of 66.3 set in ’89.

BREAKOUT PLAYER

A 2002 SuperPrep All-America at Tustin (Calif.) High, Sam Baker was a redshirt last year, learning the left tackle position from senior AllAmerica Jacob Rogers, a second-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys. A 6'5", 290-pound prodigy, the athletic and aggressive Baker--son of Arena Football League commissioner David Baker--won the starting job this spring, and he figures to open plenty of holes for USC tailbacks.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 28 vs. Virginia Tech*

Sept. 11 COLORADO STATE

18 at BYU

25 at Stanford

Oct. 9 CALIFORNIA

16 ARIZONA STATE

23 WASHINGTON

30 at Washington State

Nov. 6 at Oregon State

13 ARIZONA

27 NOTRE DAME

Dec. 4 at UCLA

* at Landover, Md.

COLOR PHOTOHANS GUTKNECHT/LADN/WIREIMAGE.COMTROJAN WORKHORSE With Cody sliding from run-stopping tackle to pass-rushing end, the line should see no drop-off. COLOR PHOTOJOHN BIEVERWhite

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)