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.
December 19, 2005
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.