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Trojans' offense exploits the Buckeyes

9/14/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- Everyone knew USC's defense was going to be dominant, but after two games its offense isn't too shabby either.

In fact, it's shaping up to be one of the most balanced units in the country.

In the 35-3 steamrolling of Ohio State, the Trojans rushed for 164 yards and passed for 184 yards against one of the nation's premier defenses.

Two weeks before, they rolled up 208 yards on the ground and 350 through the air in the 52-7 assault against Virginia.

It's hard to figure which type of attack -- air or ground -- the Trojans are more proficient in.

"Teams need to prepare for both because we have too many good running backs and receivers who can catch the ball and an O-line that can run block or pass block," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who tossed four touchdown passes, two of which went to Damian Williams.

Against Virginia, C.J. Gable led the ground game with 73 yards on nine carries. This time, it was Joe McKnight, who sliced and diced the Buckeyes for 105 yards on 12 carries (8.8 yards per carry).

"I think our offense is great at both," DT Fili Moala said. "They do a great job of keeping you guessing. They're fast enough to run zone plays and strong enough to come right at you with powers and leads. And that quarterback back there, when he's hot he's hard to stop."

Coach Pete Carroll called the gameplan "beautiful," and it's clear the Trojans used their two weeks of work well.

Sanchez seemed particularly enthused about his 35-yard TD pass to Stanley Havili, which gave USC the lead for good at 7-3 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.

Sanchez had studied a number of Buckeyes pressures, particularly ones that used safeties and corners that forced linebackers into pass coverage.

When he saw the Buckeyes show one of those pressures, he exploited it for a score. Havili had about two steps on linebacker Marcus Freeman when Sanchez hit him in stride down the far sideline.

"We ran the play 12 times in two weeks -- the exact same look, the exact same pressure, the exact some formation -- and it worked," Sanchez said. "It was perfect. It felt like we'd done it a million times already."

The offensive line, which replaced four starters, also deserves credit. The Trojans averaged 5.1 yards per rush and yielded just one sack.

So, they can pass block and run block.

"It doesn't really matter if we run or pass, but if you asked any offensive lineman, they'd say they're better at the run game because that's what offensive linemen want to do," OG Jeff Byers said.

During spring practices and early preseason work, the USC defense dominated the offense. The offense started to find its rhythm the week before the Virginia game.

"I don't think they were struggling. they were just playing against us," safety Taylor Mays said. "But, you know, Ohio State is like a No. 1 defense also."

Which means the top-ranked Trojans might be tops on both sides of the ball.