USC Football: Is Defense Ready for Mike Leach's Air Raid Offense?
With the first game of the season in the books and USC's defensive domination of Hawaii a memory, the Trojans turn their attention to Washington State and Mike Leach's productive "Air Raid" offense.
As they do, a ton of things must concern defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast about the task at hand.
Although the Cougars lost on the road 31-24 to Auburn, they acquitted themselves very nicely and served notice that they are not the patsies they once were.
Against an SEC team and at a venue that is difficult to play in, WSU hung tough in a game that wasn't decided until the very end.
Now the Trojans face a Washington State offense that produced almost 500 total yards, almost 350 of which came through the air.
This slideshow will look at the test USC hopes to pass this Saturday and offer some glimpses into Leach's vaunted aerial attack.
Without further delay, here is what the Trojans will have to deal with this week.
The Cougars Running Game Is Serviceable
While Washington State hangs their offensive hat on the passing game, USC can't afford to neglect the run.
Against Auburn, the Cougars ran 23 times for a respectable 123 yards (5.2 average) and two touchdowns.
Leading the way for Washington State was Teondray Caldwell, who only ran the rock seven times but averaged over 7.5 yards per carry.
When Leach needs a short carry, he turns to Jeremiah Laufasa, whose 10 yards on five carries included a couple of touchdowns against the Tigers.
Although the running game won't keep Pendergast up at night with worry, it is an effective change of pace from the aerial circus and must be accounted for.
Connor Halliday Is the Real Deal
Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday is capable of making mistakes, while USC has proven its secondary is opportunistic when it comes to interceptions.
Against Auburn, Halliday found Tiger defenders three times en route to his 344 passing yards from 35 completions off 53 attempts.
The bad news is that Halliday is a discerning passer, who threw to 10 different receivers in compiling those stats.
This does not bode well for a suspect Trojan secondary that has genuine concerns at the cornerback position.
It will take an inspired effort by all concerned on the defense to both provide adequate coverage in the secondary and provide pressure up front, ensuring Halliday doesn't have time to pick them to pieces.
Washington State Is Loaded with Receivers
As mentioned before, the Cougars had 10 different receivers with receptions against Auburn. The leader of the pack was Gabe Marks, who snagged nine passes for 81 yards.
Marks was not the only receiver to claim multiple receptions, though. Six other players caught at least three passes as well.
That doesn't even take Brett Bartolone into consideration—Washington State's leading receiver last year—who only had one catch last week.
This means that USC really can't afford to key on any one player in Leach's high-octane offense.
For the Trojans to be successful against these guys, they will have to get an inspired effort from a banged-up secondary, to say the least.
Can USC's Front Seven Get the Pressure Needed to Slow Down This Offense?
Like all variations of the "run and shoot" offense, the Cougars will depend on quick strikes to a bevy of receivers in a variety of configurations.
Keeping track of these receivers will require discipline in the secondary and penetration by the defensive line.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they have the personnel to do just that as the seven sacks against Hawaii would indicate.
With that being said, Washington State is not Hawaii, and USC's defensive line will not find the going as easy against the Cougars.
On the plus side, outside linebacker Morgan Breslin should be available for this game. His non-stop motor, which led the Trojans in sacks last year, will be a big help in this game.
When it comes to brilliant offensive minds that know how to run this type of offense, you can't do much better than Mike Leach.
Known as the architect of offenses that run out of a shotgun formation, Leach will utilize a minimum of five receivers on every play—including the running back, who must be accounted for coming out of the backfield.
Typically, Leach will run two types of formations. One features a balanced formation with two outside receivers and two in the slot, the other is a "trips" formation with three receivers on one side and a lone receiver opposite them.
Regardless of the formation, USC will have to receive an inspired performance from everyone associated with the defense if they want to slow this offense down.
Judging by the Trojans' offense last week against Hawaii, they certainly can't afford to get into a shootout.