Opposing coaches break down the Horns and Trojans

Updated: January 2, 2006, 3:19 PM ET
By Pat Forde and Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- How do you slow down USC? Are there ways to exploit Texas? ESPN.com turned to a couple of opposing coaches to find out. Take a look at what they had to say:

Coaches' take on Texas

Two Big 12 head coaches who played the Longhorns this year identified two chinks in the burnt orange armor for USC to try to exploit in the Rose Bowl:

• Mack Brown's tension.

Vince Young
Ronald Martinez / Getty ImagesUSC hopes to make Vince Young a one-dimensional threat.
"I'd say coach Brown will be tighter than a piano string on game day. … I could see him being a little nervous, a little tight," one Big 12 coach said. "You don't get in a position to play for the national championship very often."

"I think he will definitely feel the pressure," another coach said. "Most coaches would. I think he'll feel it, and I think the kids will feel it. If they can overcome it, it could be anybody's game. But SC could possibly blow them out."

• Vince Young's arm.

"You're going to have to cut off and bottle up Vince Young," one coach said. "You've got to be real careful when you rush him, because he can do it to you. He's got that wiggle and he's got that speed.

"Shut down the running game and make him beat you with his arm. I'd assume that's what SC is going to do. If they can cover man-to-man, I think they'll beat Texas."

The other coach said: "We put two people on [Young]. You want to contain him and make him beat you with his arm. Be very disciplined in the pass-rush lanes, almost to the point of letting him throw the ball and don't force him to run the ball. When they really get going is when Vince gets going."

Everyone in and around the Texas program will tell you that both of those alleged weak areas have improved significantly in the last year. They say Brown has relaxed dramatically in his pressure-cooker position, pointing to his semi-comical attempts to dance with his players. And they say Young's passing ability is chronically underrated, pointing out his sensational 168.6 passer rating.

But with a 12-0 team this dominant all season, you've got to start somewhere in finding weaknesses. Both Big 12 coaches, who spoke candidly with ESPN.com about the Longhorns on the condition of anonymity, praised the Longhorns in several areas -- but they both identified the same potential problems against the Trojans.

One of them said the talk about the liberating effect of Brown getting over the Oklahoma hump in October could be overrated.

"He had a dramatically better team than Oklahoma this year," the coach said.

The other said Texas' appearance in the Rose Bowl last year against Michigan could be overrated as a primer for this game.

"The experience factor has to go to USC," he said. "They're saying, 'We went to the Rose Bowl last year.' Well, they didn't play for the national championship in the Rose Bowl last year. There's a certain degree of pressure that comes with this. They will feel that, I think."

Both coaches love the Longhorns' offensive line, the foundation for a team that averaged nearly 51 points and 508 yards per game.

"That bunch looks like an NFL offensive line," one coach said. "If they let those big guys just pound on you and get to running downhill, it could be a long night. They've got good backs, too. Jamaal Charles, Ramonce Taylor, they're two quality backs."

Said the other coach: "They're going to get some rushing yards against you. They've got a great offensive line."

Although both coaches said Texas' defense is very good, they believe USC will be able to exploit it in some areas.

"They've got a lot of depth and not a lot of weaknesses," one coach said. "Not any weaknesses, really. But I think you can throw the ball on them, as long as you can protect. We felt like we could throw on them a little bit and we did. Our problem was handling the horses up front."

Said the other coach: "Their front four is very good and their back four is very good. The three linebackers, they're OK. They're above average.

"I don't know how great a pass rush they'll get against Matt Leinart. They're big, strong rushers, not much speed, and I think USC's line is really good. They're going to get people open eventually because they'll protect well enough to give Matt Leinart time."

That coach also said he believed the Horns will stay with the man coverage they've played most of the season, despite the abilities of both Leinart and his receivers, Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

"They just haven't played a lot of zone coverage this year," he said. "I don't see them deviating from their personality."

Although both coaches said they believed USC should be favored, they also said a Texas upset would not be a shock.

"I would not be surprised if Texas wins," one of the coaches said. "I saw USC play Fresno, and Fresno scored 42 points on them. Made me wonder how good a defensive team they are right now.

"Texas is a good offensive team, and good defensive team and a good kicking-game team. They're good in all three areas. If USC is not good defensively or in the kicking game, that gives Texas a chance."

Coaches' take on USC

Two Pac-10 coaches who played the Trojans this year identified ways to game plan against USC in the Rose Bowl:

Matt Leinart
Doug Benc / Getty Images Matt Leinart has the experience and talent to make big plays for USC.
Kent Baer, Washington defensive coordinator: "They don't have to be as good on defense as they were. Everyone thinks the Pac-10 doesn't play defense. But teams don't play offense every game [the way] teams out here do. I love to watch good players. USC can throw the football, and they can run the football. You can't let them do both. You've got to shut down one.

"You've got to limit the running game. You have to make them as one-dimensional as you can. When those two backs [Reggie Bush and LenDale White] are in that backfield, you better make sure you're doing something to try to limit the things they are doing. Try to get them in as many third-and-longs as you can and see if you're good enough to line up and stop them [on one play].

"If you get them in third-and-long, you have a lot of options. Matt Leinart is really smart and he's seen it all. You don't win the Heisman as a quarterback if you're not. He understands coverages and knows how to react. If you let them run the football, they will throw the football at will and you can't stop them. You'll never get the ball back.

"I think we limited them to 390 yards. We gave up three touchdowns in the kicking game. They play good defense. They are a great offensive team, and they are good in the kicking game. We actually did pretty well, and you look at the score (51-24), jeez.

"It's got to be a team effort. You've got to keep the ball away. Try to watch the clock. Get first downs and score. If they end up getting the football in the short field, that will cause you problems. You've got to be able to run the ball. Your best defense is an offense that can do that.

"To beat those guys, it's got to be as much of a team game as I've seen in a long, long while, because of what they do offensively."

Bill Miller, Arizona State defensive coordinator:
"Texas is going to have good depth and good speed to match USC pretty closely. They are playing a lot of guys, and they should. They'll be able to stay fresh. Both teams have speed on both sides of the ball.

"Where do you start? You start with the run game. Try to outnumber them. That's what we felt we had to do. We did it for three quarters. We tried to change up with pressure and give them a bad play and keep them off schedule, which is important. If you can get them in third-and-long, great, but they don't have a lot of them. They are a 'track' football team. They stay on track. Anything you try to get them off rhythm will help. If you're off-balance, and you can't stop the run, you don't have a chance.

"We were aggressive. We were like, what the hell, let our hair down and have some fun with it. It's the games you're supposed to win when you get tight. When we played them, they had punted four times. We told our guys, 'If we can make them punt, guys, think about that!' We were laughing, but there's some truth to it.

"We were going to press their receivers. They got us on some plays, but they didn't always get us. We didn't play off [or] they could beat you with the quick passing game. Make them throw the fade, and they hit a couple. We got to Leinart a couple of times. We used some three-deep and two-deep zones, pressure stuff based on down and distance.

"The SC offensive line probably doesn't get enough credit. They'll block your ass. [Coach] Pat Ruel does a good job. They are real talented. When a team can line up and whip your ass, which is what they did to us, they ran the lead zone and power right at us. Our safety got hurt in the third quarter, and the guy we put in there wasn't going to tackle LenDale White or Reggie Bush.

"Reggie doesn't get credit for how physical he is. He'll put his pads up into you. LenDale has got some Edgerrin James in him. He can hit the crease and they give him some creases to hit, too.

"It's a hell of a dilemma. They've got the power game, the back-side guard pulling. They run a zone concept lead, where the fullback is really the lead blocker. He'll go block the first penetrating lineman, and your linebacker has to fit in off of that. Their guys up front can stay on you. It's not a complicated play, but it's a physical play.

"You try to have more guys down there than they do. But you know how that is. That can blow up in your face, too. You have some decisions to make.

"On defense, I see that Keith Rivers is back. He's an outstanding kid. We recruited him at Florida. He's going to be a great, great football player. They lost some guys up front. You take three guys out of that front four from anybody, even though they are SC, that hurts you. Pete [Carroll] does a variety of things with his NFL background. They move those guys an awful lot. They use a lot of zone pressure."

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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