Friday, December 27, 2002
Iowa must find a way to slow down Williams
By Ed Cunningham
Special to BCSfootball.com
I am excited about this year's FedEx Orange Bowl, which will match up two of the nation's best quarterbacks, USC's Carson Palmer and Iowa's Brad Banks. Their ability to light up the scoreboard should result in a great game.
When USC has the ball:
Palmer deserved to win the Heisman Trophy. His improvement this year has been extraordinary.
He should also have a bright future in the NFL. One scout told me that he will be one of the top two quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft. He's more mobile than people think he is. He's got everything you would want -- size, a great arm.
Some of his improvement this season can be attributed to freshman wideout Mike Williams, who is 6-foot-5 with separation speed. Williams has good ball skills when the ball is in the air. He has good timing and control of his body. He's got an awfully bright future.
More importantly, he's picked up the game very quickly. Early on, a team might call only two or three routes for a young receiver because there would be worries that he won't be able to read coverages, read blitzes or run hot routes. Not for Williams, who leads USC with 75 receptions, 1,166 yards and 13 TDs. His emergence has had a huge impact on USC's passing game.
He reminds me a lot of a guy who is only a year older than him, Washington's Reggie Williams. They are long striders, so it takes them a second to get their speed going, but that is almost irrelevant because of their body control. With a body that big, they can get their body in position where it needs to be away from a defender.
How the Hawkeyes line up on Williams and give help in their secondary is going to be the key. Iowa must make USC earn everything. The Hawkeyes can't afford to let Kareem Kelly, who has amazing speed, slip inside, catch the ball on a short slant and run it 55 yards. If he catches it, they have to hold him to an eight-yard gain.
The Williams matchup will also affect how USC's running game fares. The strength of this Iowa defense is on the line, and it's unlikely the Trojans will be able to pound it on the Hawkeyes as long as they load up the box. But that is going to leave a lot of one-on-one matchups for Williams and Kelly.
One other matchup to watch is how Iowa defends Malaefou MacKenzie, who often lines up in the slot and is a good receiver (38 receptions, 7 TDs). Strong safety Bob Sanders will likely be asked to contain him.
When Iowa has the ball:
Iowa runs a straightforward offense -- a drop back, roll the pocket, tight end, zone blocking offense. But behind the best offensive line in the country and the immeasurable talents of Banks, it's a difficult one to contain.
The Hawkeyes are great up front. Iowa's front six (including tight end Dallas Clark) is going to cause problems for USC. The Trojans are active on the defensive front, but they haven't seen an offensive line like this. They faced a physical attack against Auburn and Kansas State, but they haven't seen an offensive line of this caliber.
Three players on Iowa's line are going to be starters in the NFL. Left tackle Robert Gallery is a legitimate first-rounder. He's a big (6-foot-7, 307) and mobile tackle who can do it all. Center Bruce Nelson and left guard Eric Steinbach are both mid-round picks, but are both going to be good NFL players.
They are a good zone-blocking team, which creates problems for defenses. It only takes a little crease for a big play. The play may start out on the left side, but all of a sudden it cuts back because someone overpursues. That's where Fred Russell's small stature (5-8, 185) is a great advantage. There is that little peek-a-boo effect where he can kind of hide in there. You think he's going to go to the 5 hole (left tackle), but bang-bang-bang, all of a sudden he's gone to the 4 hole, which is over the right tackle. And the linebackers can't see it with the giants in front of them.
Add in Clark, who causes a lot of mismatches at tight end. He is one of the fastest, big tight ends in the country. He is a true tight end who has great hands, speed and the ability to catch the ball.
But the X factor on offense is Banks, who finished second to Palmer for the Heisman. The one part USC can't prepare for is Banks' ability to make something happen when it looks like it is going to fall apart.
USC is going to blitz Banks. The Trojans are not going to allow him to be comfortable back there. He's really good with the ball, so even if he gets pressured, he won't throw a pick. Where he excels -- like any mobile quarterback -- is you may get two guys free in the backfield and think you are going to get an eight-yard loss, and he makes it an eight-yard gain. He's the X factor on this offense.
Iowa's got a big edge in the kicking edge. Their coverage is excellent, while Nate Kaeding is a really good kicker (55-of-56 PATs, 20-of-22 FGs).
Ed Cunningham will be the analyst for ABC's coverage of the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 2 (8 p.m. ET). He is a regular contributor to ABC Sports Online.