Trojans offensive line might surprise

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
7:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- A little gamesmanship from Pete Carroll? You decide.

USC's coach was asked how much of a step up Ohio State's defense will be from the Trojans first opponent, Virginia.

Said Carroll: "These guys are the best defense in America -- every single guy played last year. This was the best defense in the country last year statistically. This is the ultimate challenge for our guys at this point. How can you play somebody better than the best?"

Golly. Then the USC offensive line has no chance, right?

"When you lose four starters, that's huge," noted Trojans center Kristofer O'Dowd about USC's rebuilt line.

If there's an area where folks would think the Buckeyes have an advantage, it would be a comparison of the offensive lines.

The Buckeyes welcome back four starters. The Trojans are replacing four starters.

The Buckeyes are huge, averaging about 318 pounds per man. The itty-bitty Trojans only go 296 pounds on average across the front.

O'Dowd, however, just grins at those numbers. He thinks skinny is good.

"We work on our six packs," he said. "There aren't any beaches out in Ohio."

If Carroll and O'Dowd sound a bit glib, it's because folks around Heritage Hall don't seem too worried about the USC line, which might be one of the nation's most athletic units.

This crew -- senior OG Jeff Byers is the only returning starter -- completely dominated at Virginia, giving QB Mark Sanchez an eternity in the pocket and opening wide swaths in the overmatched Cavaliers D-line.

Sure, it's ridiculous to compare Virginia's defense to Ohio State's, but O'Dowd and his linemates are quietly confident they can produce another sterling performance. After all, they practice against a fairly salty defense every afternoon.

If there's a unit that has dramatically improved from the beginning of spring practices to the end of preseason camp, it's the line.

They've even won a few "Competition Tuesdays" against the defense.

"It took us a while, but towards the end of camp we really jelled well together and during our preparation for Virginia, everything clicked," O'Dowd said. "We feel comfortable now, so that question doesn't even bother us."

O'Dowd saw the question coming, though. He knows the line will remain the Trojans' biggest area of concern until it provides a definitive answer.

Perhaps that's why O'Dowd doesn't hide his own ambition for Saturday. He's looking forward to hunting down one guy in particular.

Said O'Dowd, "My primary guy? The guy I'm going after? Oh, it's 33! You want to go up against the best."

No. 33 is, of course, All-American LB James Laurinaitis.

It's a little misleading to call the USC line inexperienced, even though O'Dowd, OG Zach Heberer and OT Butch Lewis are all sophomores. Each of the "new" guys, including junior tackle Charles Brown, started at least one game last year.

But they have yet to face a unit like Ohio State.

The "best defense" in America should provide a pretty good test.

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