'Horns vs. Trojans One-on-One Battles

USC has won 34 straight, Texas 19 in a row. The two teams have been ranked first and second, respectively, since the first preseason polls came out. When the Trojans and the Longhorns meet in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, these seven matchups will go a long way in determining the national champion. Which player will get the upper hand on the opponent lined up across from him?
December 19, 2005

Vince Young
QUARTERBACK

VS.

Oscar Lua
MIDDLE LINEBACKER

YOUNG IS such a dangerous runner that most teams use a "spy" against him, a defensive player whose first priority is to track him all over the field. That duty could fall to Lua because of his position in the middle. But after ACL surgeries on both knees, Lua might not have the speed to be an effective shadow, in which case the Trojans could turn to free safety Scott Ware or replace a linebacker with a nickelback. If Lua can handle the job and USC can contain Young's running with its base defense, the Trojans will take away an important dimension of the Texas attack.

Michael Huff
SAFETY

VS.

Reggie Bush
TAILBACK

AT SOME point, perhaps at several points, Bush is going to break into the secondary, where his jukes and jump cuts have made many a defensive back stagger like a drunken frat boy. It will be largely up to Huff, the Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back, to corral him in the open field. Huff may be up to the task because he and his roommate, safety Michael Griffin, are the Longhorns' two leading tacklers. But if Bush makes them miss, he could take off on the kind of long, dazzling gallops that won him the Heisman Trophy.

David Thomas
TIGHT END

VS.

Darnell Bing
STRONG SAFETY

THE LONGHORNS' leading receiver with 40 catches, Thomas is the key to the intermediate passing game. He's the type who keeps drives alive, and Texas no doubt wants to hang on to the ball and keep Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the quick-strike USC offense off the field. Bing, the Trojans' best defensive back, is a big hitter who likes to move up and play the run like a linebacker, but he can't afford to be so aggressive that he loses track of Thomas, especially on third down, when the Longhorns are converting on an impressive 51% of their opportunities.

Rodrique Wright
DEFENSIVE TACKLE

VS.

Fred Matua
RIGHT GUARD

MATUA WILL face a premier run-stopper in Wright, who was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top lineman. Wright (6'5", 315) is extremely quick for his size, but Matua (6'2", 305) and his linemates are as capable of confusing defenses with their blocking schemes as they are of steamrollering them. If Wright can help stop the Trojans between the tackles, it will make USC much more predictable. If Matua wins the battle, the Longhorns will have to reinforce the middle, making them more vulnerable to Reggie Bush on the edges and to Matt Leinart's passes.

Billy Pittman
WIDE RECEIVER

VS.

Josh Pinkard
CORNERBACK

PITTMAN DOESN'T catch a lot of balls (30 this season), but he averages a 23.2-yard gain on the ones he does. He's most adept at sneaking behind defensive backs after they take a few steps up to guard against a potential scramble by Vince Young. The secondary is widely considered the Trojans' weakest link, and Pinkard, a sophomore, was a backup safety before getting his first start at cornerback on Oct. 29 to shore up a position depleted by injuries. He has done an admirable job, but the Longhorns will surely test him.

Justin Blalock
RIGHT TACKLE

VS.

Lawrence Jackson
DEFENSIVE END

ALTHOUGH THE Trojans' defense is not a great pass-rushing unit, Jackson has a team-leading 10 sacks. He and fellow end Frostee Rucker will have multiple responsibilities: rushing Young, containing him when he tries to get outside the pocket and keeping up backside pursuit in case he reverses his field. Jackson will attempt to do all this while dealing with Blalock, a 6'4", 329-pound junior with quick feet who is one of the Longhorns' three All--Big 12 first-team selections on a line that allowed only 14 sacks in 12 games.

Michael Griffin
PUNT-BLOCK SPECIALIST

VS.

Tom Malone
PUNTER

GRIFFIN HAS a school-record six blocked punts in three seasons, including one that hurt Texas A&M's bid for an upset in the Longhorns' regular-season finale. Since the start of the 2000 season Texas has blocked 42 kicks, tops in Division I-A during that span. Opponents don't get many shots at Malone--he punted only 30 times this season--but they did get in the way of two USC kicks last year. If the Trojans' punt-protection team is anything less than flawless, Griffin could produce a momentum-turning play.

FOURTEEN PHOTOSCLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME; PETER READ MILLER; BRIAN BAHR/GETTY IMAGES; SHELLY CASTELLANO/ICON SMI; DAVID E. KLUTHO; BRAD SCHLOSS/ICON SMI; JOHN PYLE/ICON SMI; JAMES D. SMITH/ICON SMI; JOHN PYLE/ICON SMI; JAMIE MULLEN/WIREIMAGE.COM; BRAD SCHLOSS/ICON SMI; JAMIE MULLEN/WIREIMAGE.COM; JOHN PYLE/ICON SMI; DARREN CARROLL
FOURTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS

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)