October 26, 2006

X&O Preview of OSU

As a special bonus to Tom Haire's Trojan game previews this year, we are thrilled to report that the USCFootball.com has not completely lost the services of X&O game preview guru Ted Venegas.

Each week, Ted will be providing his thoughts to us on the upcoming USC opponent, and those notes will be a part of each preview. This week: Oregon State.

The Trojans made it through the first half of the season unbeaten, so the stakes become higher with every game. If the Trojans win out, they will play for the national title in Arizona. Still, at times this season, it has looked like USC is not up to the task.

The offense has struggled to put teams away, and the defense has looked vulnerable in a couple of games. The last four opponents of the season (Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame, and UCLA) all showed weakness this past Saturday, but it will still be a tall order to beat all four in a row.

USC has a golden opportunity this week to take a step forward. The Beavers can be very good at times, but they have also been awful in a few games. This game will tell us a lot about this team, much more than next week's game with an abysmal Stanford team will. So, on to the match-ups.

USC Offense vs. OSU Defense

The Beaver defense is the strength of the team. They are definitely among the top three defenses in the conference, and they've already faced three top 25 offenses this year. With the exception of the Boise State game, they have been strong against the running game. They are among the best units in the Pac-10 in pass efficiency defense as well.

Part of the reason for this emergence after a terrible defensive seasons is an increase in penetration. In the past few season, the Beavers blitzed sparingly and chose to focus on coverage. When they had some excellent corners like Brandon Browner and Aric Williams, they could do that effectively. But their corners struggled last season, so they felt they had to make a change. They are doing more blitzing, and it has paid off. They have used a lot of zone blitz packages this season.

OSU has found a situational pass rusher in Dorian Smith to come off the end, and Alan Darlin and Derrick Doggett have made plays from the linebacker position. Those two have combined for 17.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two INTs, and three fumble recoveries. They have also found more depth on the defenaive line because of some JC transfers, and this has kept them fresh. As a result, the Beavers have 26 sacks, good for second in the conference.

With the more agressive style of play, the OSU corners have played more off the ball. Neither starting corner has notched an interception, and they have combined to break up only three passes all season. They have focused more on keeping receivers in front of them. As a result, the corners have not made as many big plays as they in the past, but they also haven't given up many. The Beavers have only surrendered one TD pass of 30 or more yards this season.

While this defense is very good, it is not invincible. Their stats are skewed by lights out games against Eastern Washington, Idaho, and an awful Arizona offense. Both Boise State and Cal dropped over 40 points on the Beavers. OSU's run defense fell apart against the Broncos as Boise burned them with some trap plays. I'm not sure I would count on that happening again, especially because the Trojans don't use the trap very much.

Cal took a different approach. They came out gunning. The Bears passed on 17 of the first 28 plays in their first four drives, and ended up with a 28-0 lead after those drives. By using this strategy with quick passing, the Bears were able to neutralize OSU's pass rush and put them on their heels. Then they went into cruise control.

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