Thursday, September 29, 2011
Taking advantage of a weakness
By Pedro Moura
Arizona, USC's opponent this Saturday, is a 1-3 team that probably is better than than record considering the quality of its opponents.
But the Wildcats do have one easily discernible weakness: They struggle defending the run.
In its last three games, Arizona has given up an average of 285 rushing yards per game, a ridiculously high number boosted by LaMichael James' record-setting 288-yard performance last week. But Stanford's Stepfan Taylor and Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle had similar success too, gaining 7.4 yards per rush against the Wildcats' porous front seven.
But James, Taylor and Randle all have one thing in common: They're quick. USC's No. 1 running back, Marc Tyler, is not, as evidenced by his struggle to break most runs past the 15-yard mark. And that naturally lowers the Trojans' expectations for what they can accomplish against the Arizona defense.
"It is what it is," coach Lane Kiffin said Thursday. "You can’t all of a sudden make a guy really fast. We’re doing the best to put him in the best situations with his ability. Obviously you always want a home run hitter and a guy that last week on those runs has some explosive longer runs.
"We've just got to use what we have and make the best of him and find different ways to use him.”
It could be finding different ways to use him, or it could be finding ways to incorporate different players. D.J. Morgan and/or Dillon Baxter could get good chances Saturday, as could Amir Carlisle, if he's able to suit up with a sprained ankle, which is unlikely.
So why is Arizona struggling so much with stopping the run game?
"I think it’s a combination of two things," Kiffin said. "No. 1, they have played three of the best offenses in the country, three great great offenses. No. 2, they are kind of going through what we did a year ago early on. They have a lot of new guys playing. They lost a bunch of really good players last year.
"These systems take a while for guys to get used to them and be able to play in them. They are going through exactly some of the same stuff we went through early on last year.”
Interestingly, the fifth game of last season is when things starting to really unravel for USC. That was the Washington game, which the Trojans lost, 32-31, at home. And the sixth game was the Stanford loss in Palo Alto.
After that, the defense settled down some, but it had been a ticking bomb of sorts through USC's first four wins.