Trojans prepared for Vince Young experience

From watching film to implementing a three-headed scout team QB, USC is doing everything to prepare for the Vince Young experience, writes Pat Forde.

Updated: January 3, 2006, 11:05 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Pacific-10 is the nation's capital of offensive football. Three Pac-10 teams rank in the top eight nationally in scoring, and six are in the top 26. You like points, you like these guys.

But even after a full season in that pinball league, the USC Trojans haven't seen anything to prepare them for the Vince Young Experience.

Vince Young
AP PhotoThe Trojans are focused on slowing down Vince Young.
"There's nobody like this," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't see it. There's guys that can run and there's guys that can throw, and there's quick guys and all that, but nobody has ever been this fast. The style of throwing game features downfield throwing, a lot of long, hard, difficult throws, and he's been great at it. It's not just a little dink-and-dunk type of throwing game.

"The one guy that I thought physically that he's similar to is Randall Cunningham. He was an extraordinarily fast guy with a huge arm, and in that regard, they're similar. I don't think Randall ever ran quite as fast as Vince did, but he was extraordinary."

There are no Randall Cunninghams in the Pac-10 -- or anywhere else in college ball at present, to be fair. Some USC defensive players tried to compare Texas' spread look to Oregon's, but with apologies to Ducks quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Dennis Dixon, it's not even close.

Those two guys combined to run for 26 yards on 14 carries against the Trojans. Carroll would give half his salary to hold Young to rushing numbers like that in the Rose Bowl Wednesday night.

The Pac-10 is a pocket-passing league, a stand-still quarterback league. And if there's one thing you can count on with Young, he won't be standing still.

In an attempt to replicate Young's myriad talents, USC has used a three-headed scout team quarterback. Tight end Fred Davis (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) was used to give Trojan defenders a sense of the 6-5, 233-pound Young's size and strength. Freshman running back Michael Coleman was used for his speed. And when it was time to throw, USC used redshirt prep All-American Mark Sanchez.

"That made it a little easier in practice because we knew when they were running the ball and when they were going to be throwing the ball," USC safety Scott Ware said.

They won't have that luxury Wednesday. Not only will the Trojans not know what's coming their way from play to play, they cannot even decide which part of Young's game concerns them most.

Linebacker Keith Rivers: "We've just got to do our best to keep him from scrambling, don't let him get that crease. We've got to have everyone in position and then you have to tackle. You see guys falling off him all over the place. We've got to come up, form-tackle and get him to the ground."

Linebacker Oscar Lua: "It will be our biggest challenge to contain his arm, rather than his running. To my surprise, he doesn't run as much as I thought."

There's nobody like this. I don't see it. There's guys that can run and there's guys that can throw, and there's quick guys and all that, but nobody has ever been this fast.
USC coach Pete Carroll on Vince Young
But the mere threat of Young's breakaway running ability alters the way most defenses play. It can suck the aggressiveness out of a pass rush, since leaving him creases to scramble through could be lethal.

"You can let your ends have a firmer pass rush, but you can't let all four [defensive linemen] be firm," said one Big 12 coach who played against Texas this year. "Your tackles need to be a little softer on their pass rush."

And that means there are fewer games up-front for the Longhorns' line to deal with. Stunts and twists are risky.

"We have a much easier time pass protecting because defensive linemen are told to contain, so they can't let him get by," said Texas guard Will Allen.

"What you sometimes see is lane integrity," Horns offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "Sometimes people don't twist as much as maybe they had coming into our ball game because if a twist gets caught up, it could create a problem.

"You see backers spying in different ball games. You see down linemen spying. Great players alter the game even when they're not making plays."

Fact is, this is a great offensive player going up against a not-great USC defense. The Trojans rank 73rd nationally in passing yardage allowed and have surrendered 21 or more points six times this season.

But examine the USC season more closely and you'll see a defense that had a lot of injuries and experience to overcome early on, and has played well as it has healed.

Other than giving up a surprising 42 points to Fresno State -- failure to take the Bulldogs seriously, perhaps? -- the Trojans swallowed a couple of powerful offenses late in the year. They absolutely killed UCLA, limiting a team that averaged more than 40 points to 275 total yards and 19 points. And they shut down California, also holding the 33-point-a-game Bears to less than 300 total yards and 10 points -- seven of them at garbage time.

"As the season prevailed and went on, all these guys have matured so much," defensive end Frostee Rucker said of the young Trojans.

In the process, USC has become the nation's No. 1 ball-hunting team in America. The Trojans have gouged out 37 turnovers, most in the nation, and done so largely because Carroll obsesses on it.

The Wednesday of every game week is Turnover Wednesday -- attempts to strip the ball are charted and counted throughout practice, with awards given by position group.

"You've got to strive for the ball the whole practice," Rucker said. "It's all about getting the ball."

Make no mistake, Texas has been known to put the ball on the ground. The Longhorns fumbled 31 times in 12 games but lost only eight. Given USC's propensity for coming up with the ball, Texas does not want to give it three or four shots at a fumble recovery in the Rose Bowl.

But to knock the ball loose, the Trojans must be able to catch the guys carrying it. Especially the elusive Vince Young.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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