An Open Letter to JoePa: How to Beat USC

Kevin LeongContributor IIDecember 31, 2008

Dear Joe,

This isn't a "How-to" guide as the title suggests, but a few key reminders as you sit coaching in your press box.

Feel free to look over it from time to time, regardless of whether your Lions are winning or losing; these words may just help you regain focus in the chaos of the game.

I must first caution you: I say this isn't a "How-to" guide because of the simple fact that there is no book on beating the Trojans. Sure, it has been done before, but to take a formulaic approach in Thursday's game would be suicide.

The winner of tomorrow's game'll be the team that responds the quickest and most effectively in each momentous situation. Allow these tips to help your team come out on top.

1. Stop USC's running game up front

If you hope to beat USC, you cannot allow their Big 3 (McKnight, Johnson, and Gable) to average 5+ yards per carry. It is essential that Maybin, Odrick, and Gaines stay active in stuffing the run.

The more effectively the front line can stop the run, the less the secondary has to worry about run support and can focus on breaking up the passing game. Any pressure taken off of Astorino and Scirrotto will only help their defensive efficiency.

Also, hopefully with the absence of Steve Sarkisian as USC's offensive coordinator, SC's offense will not be able to easily adapt to your defensive schemes.

A solid, all-around defense is key, but it starts with eliminating SC's run game.

2. Keep your "Spread HD" offense...spread

The key to your "Spread HD" offense is diversifying your plays: keeping your opponents defense constantly guessing and misreading what you're about to do. This misdirection is important when it comes to moving your team up and down the field.

USC's defense is known most notably for its strength and speed. Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing are two of college's most powerful linebackers. Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison are menaces in the backfield.

Constantly changing your plays and formations helps create a cushion between these defenders and your players, giving them more room to move around and score. The more you keep them second-guessing, the slower they will respond to the action.

3. Control the T.O.P (Time of Possession)

Possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of the game is to keep your offense moving up and down the field.

Though this may seem like a given, it is essential you keep your give your defense as much time as you can resting off the field.

Three games following New England's loss of Tom Brady, the Patriot's defense struggled greatly as their offense couldn't stay on the field. They quickly got tired and gave up a greater number of rushing and passing yards than in previous years.

It wasn't until Matt Cassel and the Patriot offense got into a rhythm and averaged a T.O.P. of 30 minutes that the defense started playing like it used to.

As much as you may like your defense's ability to keep USC at bay, play aggressively, as though you were coming from behind, regardless of who's winning.

In Oregon State's victory over USC, the Beavers won the T.O.P. battle 34:50-25:10. Control the ball and you will win.

The fresher you keep your defense, the better they will read and react to USC.

4. Maintain your composure

It is important your players maintain their composure and don't let their nerves get the best of them.

Many of your key players are young.

On defense: S Astorino (So.), LB Bowman (Fr.), DE Maybin (So.)

On offense: RB Royster (So.) and his backup Green (Fr.), and a relatively young OL.

Keep their intensity high and their focus on the game. Let them know the mistakes they've made, while helping them to look past them and improve during the game.

This USC team has plenty of experience winning when it counts, so it is essential that your team doesn't feel inadequate.

You've pushed your Nittany Lions this far with great success, only a little bit further and you can become Rose Bowl Champions.

It isn't a stretch of the imagination to believe you can beat USC, and you know that.

Lead by example and your team will be great.


-Kevin Leong


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