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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
DBs prepare for Gray and the spread

By Pedro Moura



What do USC's defensive backs have to prepare for against a team running a spread offense like Minnesota?

They have to be ready for deep balls, thrown early and thrown often. They have to be ready for the quarterback, MarQueis Gray, to cut broken plays short and take off running. They have to be ready for traditional run plays from tailbacks Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood.

Above all, they just have to be ready for everything. Jerry Kill likes to mix things up in his offense -- or, Kill liked to mix things up in his offense at Northern Illinois and probably will at Minnesota, too.

Still, the Trojans insist Saturday's game is all about execution and not at all about deception.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen before," sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey said Wednesday, roughly an hour after he returned an interception for a touchdown during practice. "Everything's the same with the spread. They got athletes who do the same things that most athletes around here do.

"It's nothing surprising we're gonna see."

That's not an insult, you see. Because, for all the Trojans know as of right now, the Gophers really won't be doing anything different. In fact, they'll be doing a lot of what the Oregon Ducks do in the Pac-12 with the combination of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James.

"It's kinda like Oregon's offense, as far as, they can pull it, they can give the ball off, pull it out, run with the quarterback, throw bubbles, throw the ball deep," safety T.J. McDonald said. "[Gray]'s a big deep ball threat, he's got some good receivers, they've got a good little running back."

Robey said he would be asked to complete "a lot of 1-on-1 coverage" on Da'Jon McKnight, the Gophers' top receiver, and blitz on occasion to mix things up. He remembered facing Gray last year when he was a physical receiver and said he expected much of that physicality to be retained at the quarterback position.

But it's not just about him. For the most part, Gray will be serving as the conduit for the rest of the Gophers' offense.

"It's all going to come down to execution," McDonald said. "It's not that complicated -- they're not going to throw too much stuff at you. It's just that they have a lot of options with what they run."

A lot of that execution will fall on the shoulders of the defensive backs, both because of Kill's tendency to call for deep balls and Gray's ability to break through the first and second lines of defense quickly and with relative ease.

Chris Galippo put it well over the weekend: “As a linebacker, usually you don’t want to be chasing around fast quarterbacks."

And Robey, McDonald and the rest of the USC DBs do? Not really, but they'll have to.