Penn State must attack vaunted USC defense

December, 18, 2008
12/18/08
5:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

USC's staggering defensive statistics have been rehashed throughout the season: 3.4 yards allowed per play, 11 touchdowns in 12 games, 7.75 points per game, 122.8 pass yards per game, 15 fourth-quarter points all season.

Like it or not, these numbers are going to be thrown in your face from now until the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

It's up to Penn State to throw them right back at the Trojans.

The Nittany Lions aren't the type of team to be easily intimidated. They have their own impressive numbers on offense this season: 40.2 points per game, 211.6 rush yards per game, a 93.4 percent conversion rate in the red zone.

Penn State's Spread HD offense hasn't backed down to any defense this fall. The play calling has been consistently aggressive, atypical of a Joe Paterno-coached team. Aside from a handful of games (Purdue, Ohio State), Penn State attacked opposing defenses and never let up.

The Nittany Lions must do the same in Pasadena. A passive approach simply won't cut it against USC. Penn State must target the heart of the USC defense -- a back seven that features All-Americans in linebacker Rey Maualuga and safety Taylor Mays -- and take its chances from there.

"Against a defense like that, which relies on their speed, relies on running to the ball, you have to attack them," Penn State center A.Q. Shipley said. "They're a great defense, they always have three, four, five guys on the screen making a tackle. For us to be able to be effective, we can't sit back and just play for field position.

"We have to be aggressive and take advantage of what they're giving us."

Some would argue aggressive play calling cost Penn State against Iowa. The Lions came out passing the ball deep in their own end and gave Iowa a short field that it converted into a Shonn Greene touchdown. And it was a deep post pass late in the fourth quarter that Iowa intercepted to set up its game-winning drive.

But for the most part, aggressive equaled effective for Penn State, which didn't deviate from its attacking style in the regular-season finale against Michigan State, a game played in less than favorable weather conditions. The Lions had three touchdown passes of 30 yards or more and racked up 49 points and 557 yards.

"Words can't describe how important that game was as far as my motivation and my confidence," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "That game was great for us."

Clark hopes to recapture the rhythm right away against USC, which has allowed 71 points in the first half and only 22 after halftime this season.

"When you come out to a good start, it kind of lingers throughout the remainder of the game," Clark said. "A good start, very aggressive play and limit turnovers, we should be OK."

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