The two teams for the Rose Bowl are set and SI.com’s Stewart Mandel asks the salient question: Will this title game be any different from last year’s?.
Anyway, Mandel gives three reasons why it will and three reasons why it won’t. I thought I’d chime in under the same format:
Why It Will Be Different
1. Vince Young–Two of the last three teams to beat USC featured quarterbacks who could move around in the pocket and ‘reset’ a play after the original one broke down. Ell Roberson of Kansas State and Jason Gesser were those guys and they gave some pretty good Trojan defenses fits. Young is the kind of player who can free lance and break the discipline of the USC defense. Nothing is more demoralizing to a defense than a quarterback like Young who can make something out of nothing.
2. Offensive Line Style Of Play–The 2004 Oklahoma Sooner line was believed (falsely) by the media to be the best line in the country. How did they know that? Why, Bob Stoops told them so. Naturally then, the media figured that the OU line would run over a Trojan defensive front seven that featured four All-Americans. One pretty good writer I know even told me before the game that he was going to laugh when he saw USC linebacker Matt Grootegoed get knocked 10-feet backwards by Sooner guard Davin Joseph. As it turns out, Joseph–and the rest of the OU line–couldn’t knock anyone back 10 inches in the Orange Bowl. The reason? Their style of play. Despite having pretty good talent, the Oklahoma line was made up primarily of what some scouts call ‘time buyers’. They spent much of their time backpedaling to protect Jason White and, when they ran, they utilized a zone blocking scheme that wasn’t downhill and aggressive, but lateral and passive. Hence, USC’s attacking front seven made mincemeat of the Oklahoma line. The Texas line is different. It is no more physically talented than that OU group, but it has a different mentality. The Longhorn line is more smashmouth, more run-you-over. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be successful in the Rose Bowl, it probably gives Texas a better shot against the Trojan defense–which no longer features four All-Americans–than Oklahoma had.
3. The Running Backs–While Oklahoma had Adrian Peterson last year, the Sooners’ depth at running back wasn’t as good as the Longhorns this year. While Oklahoma liked to trot out the gawd-awful Kejuan Jones on passing downs, Texas will rotate between freshman phenom Jamaal Charles, speedster Ramonce Tayler, the smooth Selvin Young and the gargantuan Henry Melton. So the Longhorns have a greater selection of running backs with which to do some damage. And believe me, if Texas can’t run, they won’t be successful in this game. Charles and Tayor are the kind of backs who can go the distance if USC makes a mistake, while Young and Melton are good change ups. Oklahoma really didn’t have these kind of options last season.
Lofa Tatupu won’t be around to flex his muscles this year
Why It Won’t Be Different
1. Style of Play On Offense And Defense–Just like Oklahoma last year, Texas cruised through a Big 12 schedule that offered little in the way of sophisticated, balanced offensive attacks. Oklahoma had great talent on defense last year as six players were drafted by the NFL, but the Sooners looked completely lost matching up with USC’s schemes and formations. Why? Because they were completely unfamiliar with USC’s style of play on offense. There is little reason to expect that the Longhorns are going to be ready for this type of offense, either. Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has had some exposure to it, having played USC twice while at Auburn, but he was not very successful against it and, anyway, it’s the players who have to play the game. Conversely, the much-maligned Trojan defense is actually perfectly suited to take on Texas. The teams that have come the closest to beating the Trojans in the last 34 games have been successful at nickel-and-diming their way down the field with a short and intermediate range passing attack. USC’s defense is actually designed to prevent the big play–it hasn’t given up a pass completion of longer than 45 yards in the last 21 games, for instance. The Trojans focus on stopping the run, while giving up the underneath stuff in the passing game, gambling that they’ll tackle their opponents well and force turnovers or that teams will make mistakes or lose their patience (once they fall behind). It’s the kind of defensive strategy that has been able to keep things together despite numerous injuries and personnel losses. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, they do not have the kind of short and intermediate passing game at their disposal that they need. Texas is a big-play offense–just the kind of offense for which the Trojan defense is designed to stop. What’s more, while Young is an improved passer, the Texas passing attack will probably be one of the more rudimentary the Trojans have faced all season–it certainly will be more so than Oklahoma’s last year. So, it comes down to style of play and familiarity, both areas that are huge advantages to USC.
2. The Experience Factor–Face it, there will probably be an element on the Texas team that is just happy to be there. The skill players for the Longhorns–the receivers and backs–have never been in a game of this magnitude. This kind of inexperience can produce bonehead plays and fumbles. USC, on the other hand, has been getting ready for this game all season. They were expected to be there. They will not be as wide-eyed at the build up and hype surrounding this matchup–they’ve been under the microscope all season. The game itself will be played on what amounts to their home turf in Pasadena, just a few miles from their dormrooms. No setting could be easier and more familiar.
3. Coaching–All the other factors I mentioned may or may not end up being valid. But, I do believe that USC has a significant coaching edge in this one. Mack Brown has had a great season and did a stellar job to get his team where it is. The Longhorns haven’t just won, they’ve won big. But Brown has never had to get his team ready for a national title game before. Carroll has the routine down pat and is a master of bowl games, winning his last three BCS bowls by an average score of 40-17. Now, does this mean that Brown won’t do it right and that Carroll will automatically have all the answers? No. But based on what we know right now, you have to give Carroll the clear edge on this one.
One other note, there’s also a good bit of historical revisionism going on with last year’s title game. Suddenly Oklahoma, a team with two Heisman finalists and an NCAA-leading 11 NFL draft picks, was just out-talented by the Trojans. I don’t buy that for a minute and I won’t buy the too-much-talent argument this year either. Since the talent levels are, like last year, fairly close, this game will be decided by systems and coaching.
As you can tell, I believe that USC is going to win this game pretty solidly, perhaps not along the lines of last year against Oklahoma, but fairly comfortably. Of course, we’ll have a month to debate it all once the Heisman is done with.
After all, we gotta talk about something, right?
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