Give USC the slight edge

Originally Published: January 4, 2005
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

After a month of talking about it, USC and Oklahoma are finally going to play each other tonight in the Orange Bowl for the national title. Here's a look at the key matchups in tonight's game.

Oklahoma running game vs. USC run defense
OU The Trojans may not have seen an Adrian Peterson, but they did hold California All-American J.J. Arrington to 112 yards on 21 carries. Arrington was the only back to rush for 100 against USC. Still, the Sooners' offensive line is without comparison, and Peterson rushed for 100 yards 11 times in 12 games. The question is not whether he will gain yards -- he will -- but whether he will be so dominant that he takes over the game. That won't happen.
Edge: Oklahoma

Oklahoma passing game vs. USC pass defense
OU Asked if any team played well against the Sooners, USC assistant head coach Ed Orgeron pointed to Kansas, which, he said, put nine men in the box and slowed Oklahoma down for three quarters. Oklahoma won that game, 41-10, because Jason White completed 27-of-44 passes for 389 yards and four touchdowns. Oklahoma allowed only seven sacks this season, or one for every 53 attempts. The offensive line's ability to stop the USC pass rush is critical. USC has 48 sacks -- nine by All-American Shaun Cody -- and that pressure is a big reason why the Trojans finished the regular season tied for third in interceptions with 19. The Sooners believe that senior wideout Mark Clayton is the unsung hero of this offense. If he makes big catches, the Oklahoma engine will be humming.
Edge: Oklahoma

USC running game vs. Oklahoma run defense
The Sooners allowed only eight rushing touchdowns, none longer than eight yards, a great example of how they denied opponents the big play. Nebraska back Cory Ross, the only rusher to gain 100 yards against Oklahoma, needed 30 carries to get 130 yards. Oklahoma held All-American Cedric Benson of Texas to a season-low 92 yards. Oklahoma held the ball for an average of 33:01, which is as good a defense against USC as anyone drew up. That's how Cal held the Trojans to 82 rushing yards. They didn't let USC have the ball. Sophomore LenDale White, a powerful between-the-tackles back, rushed for 985 yards, and nobody knows it because of the star power of sophomore Reggie Bush. Matt Leinart and his Heisman notwithstanding, Bush is the engine of the Trojan offense. He averaged only 11.4 carries per game, but he will get far more than that against USC. Why save him?
Edge: USC
USC

USC passing game vs. Oklahoma pass defense

Matt Leinart has the physical gifts that every coach wants in a quarterback -- height (6-foot-5) and a live, accurate arm. But coaches on both teams say what made the junior a Heisman winner are the decisions he made. Leinart won't get rattled by whatever Oklahoma throws at him, and the Trojans take their cue from him. The Sooners' midseason defensive problems against the pass corrected themselves when corner Antonio Perkins' injured knee healed, and when freshman corner Marcus Walker took off his redshirt in the ninth game of the season. In the three games since, Oklahoma has given up six points. But the Sooners' paltry eight interceptions over the season, only five by the secondary, indicate a vulnerability that a Leinart -- and offensive coordinator Norm Chow -- should be able to exploit.
Edge: USC

USC

Special Teams
The Trojans have a stronger leg at punter, in junior Tom Malone, and they have a more proven leg at kicker in senior Ryan Killeen. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made a late-season change from senior Trey DiCarlo to freshman Garrett Hartley, an all-state kicker out of Texas prep power Southlake Carroll. USC has Reggie Bush to return kicks, the only player who has an edge on the Sooners' Mark Clayton. In the showdown against Cal, the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and lost, 23-17, because USC dominated the kicking game.
Edge: USC.
USC

Coaching
The only difference between these two staffs is that Oklahoma, like the rest of Division I-A, has no one the equal of USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Edge: USC
USC

Intangibles
OU The theme that has driven Oklahoma since its postseason collapse a year ago against Kansas State and LSU has been simple: "Finish." It's significant, because the Sooners' performance in the Big 12 Championship Game was breathtakingly dominant. Colorado is no USC, but Oklahoma still held the Buffaloes to 46 yards and only 20:28 of possession. That drive has continued to direct the Sooners, who will also have the benefit of the majority of the crowd at Pro Player Stadium. USC has been in more close games than has Oklahoma, and has shown in three games this season that it will not panic in tough situations. That will come in handy Tuesday night.
Edge: Oklahoma.

Ivan Maisel's Prediction: USC 23, Oklahoma 21

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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