One of the more intriguing match-ups for the Rose Bowl will be the USC defense against the PSU offense.
During the off-season Penn St. installed the “Spread HD” offense. This is an offense that is run heavy or “a glorified wishbone” as Jay Paterno calls it. Based on what I have been reading it would appear that this a standard I Formation type offense with a heavy dose of QB in the shotgun...I think that is a little over simplified, as they will move a receiver into the backfield and mix in a little of the fly sweep that we saw Oregon St. use in our loss to them.
This is a solid offense that is #4 in the nation in point differential with a 27.77-point differential average. They are behind Florida, USC and Oklahoma so this team can score some points. PSU is also #4 in yard differential 88.25 yards per game; USC is #1 at 247 yards per game. Based on that I think its safe to say that SC has to be on guard for this game, no slouching or taking it easy. PSU is underrated in this game and with a number of pundits not giving them much of a chance you know they will be hungry and will come out firing in this game. This is not Illinois from last year and while the 2006 Michigan team was ranked higher PSU “may” be better and deserves to be taken seriously as they should command our respect.
Instead of trying to break this offense down and all of its components I think it’s more important to see how PSU will match-up against USC’s Defense.
One thing that stands out is PSU’s ability to protect the ball in the air…they have thrown only 4 INT’s all season. Sanchez has had some issues throwing into coverage or “not seeing” defenders in the area where he is throwing. Both teams have issues with putting the ball on the ground at 9 fumbles each, so that’s a wash. SC still leads the turnover ratio over PSU at +4. Simply stated, SC will have to work extra hard to get turnovers as PSU won’t beat themselves here (SC can’t cough up the ball either!). PSU’s primary weapon in the backfield is Evan Royster. He isn’t a household name in these parts but he is averaging around 6+ YPC, this is definitely the strength of the PSU offense. He has some speed and a great offensive line to make some holes but looking at the numbers he can be contained. In their last 5 out of 6 games Royster was held to under a hundred yards. Those teams were Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana and MSU. Again, looking at the numbers those defenses are ranked (in the order I listed) #32, #8, #13, #107, and #62 nationally. The rub here is that we don’t know when or if Royster was pulled from those games thus possibly keeping his numbers down. So those stats “may” be a bit misleading. Another player to keep an eye on is Freshman Stephon Green. At 5-10 he presents some problems like Quizz Rodgers in that he is very fast and has he has the capability to really break for some yardage. The fact is SC has been very successful stopping the run and it would appear that this is PSU’s strength on offense.
I have seen some message board posts where some seem to think that Illinois’ Mendenhall is better than Royster, trying to draw the line that if we could contain Mendenhall we should be able to contain Royster. I think that is a mistake…there is no way that Royster is better than Mendenhall but the PSU offensive line is much better than Illinois last year. PSU led the Big 10 in pass efficiency, sacks allowed, total offense & scoring offense. SC’s ability to contain Mendenhall was because Juice Williams was constantly under pressure so the plays could never fully develop. I think SC’s defense will have similar results but it won’t be a cakewalk. Another thing to understand is that a lot of people want to point to common opponents, both USC and PSU played Oregon St and Ohio State and while its easy to look at those results to try and draw conclusions both teams got better as the season went on. PSU fans want to point to the drubbing they gave the Beavers who we lost to as some form of dominance but the tOSU defense that we beat soundly got better and PSU had a difficult time with them in Columbus. Most teams get better as the season moves on, USC certainly did, so it would not surprise me that if PSU played Oregon St. later in the season they would probably still win but not at that MOV. So, to me those type of comparrissons are not an effective argument...I say shut up and play!
Trojan Football Analysis has run some great pieces (too numerous to link them all here) breaking down the PSU offense. It would appear that regardless of the formation that they will line up in PSU, more often than not, will run the ball. That’s is USC strength…stopping the run. I have no problem if PSU wants to throw the ball down field either, it’s not like the USC secondary isn't up for the task but I would not be surprised if Clark tried to probe them - its going to be too irrestiable for Clark not to at least try...
Darryl Clark runs the show throwing for over 2300 yards with 17 TD’s and only 4 INT’s. Those are pretty good numbers but he is not perfect as that late pick in the Iowa game showed. His performance against Iowa was also partly due to the PSU O line not giving Clark the best pass protection they could have. The question is if the PSU O line has another lapse like that and they fall behind can he keep his confidence up? That was seen as an issue early in the season. Clark is a good passer but he averages about 190 YPG, showing that PSU is more committed to the run. Even with their solid wide receiving corps of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood Clark is going to have trouble exploiting the USC secondary so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw dink-and-dunk type short yardages passes to try and probe the USC defense for some weaknesses while picking up 4-7 yards at a time. That is always how Pete Carroll plays the defense in the begining few series before snapping the trap shut. Bend, don't break then drop the hammer once you break the code.
Clark will have difficulty trying to use his god given skills to run the ball, as USC’s defense has been excellent at stopping those runs almost at the point of attack. I wouldn’t say it plays into SC’s hands but you can only do so much of that as sooner or later you will have to commit to the run or try to put it up. I mentioned the fly sweep earlier- PSU will put Williams all over the place to try and confuse opposing defenses. We'll see, the Ohio State defense USC should have seen early in the season did a pretty good job of containing the PSU offense so there is a template that SC can refer to. Its not going to be easy but it won't be impossible either.
Due to a concussion Clark was also not the QB who engineered PSU’s win against Ohio State that was his back-up Devlin who has since transferred to Delaware so the USC defense needs to get to Clark early to rattle his confidence. That’s going to be tough because the PSU O line does not give up many sacks and SC really isn’t a sack machine this year but that really doesn’t matter because if SC can put pressure on Clark that might make him commit some mental errors. Coincidentally our friends at BSD are saying the same thing about Sanchez…hit him early to rattle his confidence. I guess they didn’t watch the ucla game, Sanchez will take some shots and get right back in there...all ucla did was strengthen his resolve.
I think USC holds PSU to 14 points or less as this will be a defensive battle for both teams. The question is how many points will USC score against a very good PSU defense?