Archive for the ‘Taylor Mays’ Category

Spring Fish Wrap – Men of Troy Edition

May 13, 2009


Ah yes, the USC Trojans. Dominance in virtually every aspect, on and off the field. From song girls/cheerleaders, Pete Carroll, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, Keyshawn Johnson, Junior Seau, Marcus Allen, Charles White and OJ, the list just goes on, and on, and on.

But now, things are looking just a little different. UW robbed the coaching cupboard in their attempt at becoming USC North, setting up camp in Seattle. And once again, USC was raided in the NFL draft, losing 11 more players to the league, another year where they were tops in the conference. Is this the year that Cal or Oregon or some other darkhorse rides out of the mist and takes their throne? Or is it yet another USC PAC-10 title, for the eighth straight time? It’s early to fully predict what’s going to happen, but we can at least take a look at their post-spring practice condition. Read on for more…

LAST YEAR: 12-1, 8-1 in the PAC-10, conference champions and Rose Bowl champions (yawn). USC stubbed their toes just once last year, at Oregon State in that memorable Thursday night game in week three, where the world was introduced to Jacquizz Rodgers on ESPN. But as usual, USC got their house in order and rolled through the rest of the schedule, hot knife through butter style. The season culminated in a 38-24 Rose Bowl title. 38-24 doesn’t sound like that much of a whoopin’, but the final score is misleading. SC was up 31-7 at the half, 38-14 in the 4th quarter before Penn State would add a couple of TD’s late.

Interesting sidenote on USC and the Big 10. With their latest Rose Bowl victory, SC has now won their last nine in a row vs. the Big 10. And it hasn’t even been close. USC has won by an average of 36.8 to 13.1. And all nine games were won by double-digits! Last year not only included the win over #8 Penn State, but don’t forget SC blew out #5 Ohio State 35-3 earlier in the season. Very, very impressive.

LAST YEAR vs. WSU: Uh, yeah. 69-0. ‘Nuff said.

FANS ARE: You mean aside from starting to sweat the Ruggie Bush/OJ Mayo sandwich investigation? They are pretty cool with everything. Disappointed they didn’t get a shot at the BCS title, but hey, understanding as to why they missed out last year. You lose one game, and you are in that mix of teams who more or less have to “politic” their way into the conversation with the rest of the one-loss teams. USC would finish a strong #5 in the BCS standings, #5 in the AP poll, and #4 in the coaches poll.

I guess they could be a little bored as well. Bored, if you consider going to the Rose Bowl four years in a row and five of their last six seasons have ended in Pasadena? Of course, this year, the Rose Bowl will be just fine, thanks….it’s the site of the BCS title game. So Pasadena will just have to do this year!

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: Even with the departure of Steve Sarkisian to UW, the offense should be largely what you are used to with SC. Jeremy Bates was hired from the Denver Broncos to be the new play-caller on offense, while John Morton will help coordinate the offense. And so far, so good, according to reports of the new coaches. Not exactly missing Sarkisian? But don’t look for any drastic changes. A pro-style offense with a fullback and tight end, but not afraid to go three-wide and use motion when necessary.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS:
#14 in the nation in scoring offense at 37.5 points per game.
#22 in the nation in rushing offense at 194.8 yards per game.
#22 in the nation in passing offense at 259.8 yards per game.

A nice and balanced attack, averaging 454.7 yards per game in total offense.

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: NINE (wow!).

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: While Joe McKnight gets the accolades, and Youtube fame as well. But McKnight is really just one of a cast of thousands in the USC backfield (OK, not thousands, but more like five other guys will carry the ball along with McKnight). It’s hard to ignore McKnight’s 7.4 yards per carry last year, but he only had 89 carries on the season. While he should have a big ’09 season, I’m going to go in another direction and pick rising WR Damian Williams as the top offensive player for USC.


Williams was a transfer from Arkansas, who fled to LA along with QB Mitch Mustain in a much-publicized move across the country. Mustain was the headline guy in all that, but it turns out that Williams has already made a far greater impact on the football program. In his first season at SC, Williams led the team in catches (58), yards (869) and was second in TD’s (9), all as a sophomore. Williams isn’t huge in the Dwayne Jarrett/Mike Williams mold, standing 6-1 and weighing 190, but he has the look of a special WR. Williams had a huge Rose Bowl, with 10 catches for 162 yards and a TD.

Watching the video, you see how explosive he is. There are several plays where he doesn’t quite look like he has the angle, then boom, he’s by the guy (check the TD vs. UCLA as an example). Williams is arguably the top WR returning in the PAC-10 for ’09, and should be on several first-team all-conference lists. And his return should help the new young QB, whether it’s Aaron Corp, Matt Barkley or someone else.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: Your NFL-style 4-3 attack, with big meaty NFL-type tackles and great speed on the edges. They don’t go crazy with blitzing either, instead relying on their front four a lot of times to create the pressure they need. They will blitz, but you don’t see huge sack totals from their linebackers. But they are physical as hell and always tackle as well as any defense you will see in the conference.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS:
Top in the PAC-10 in scoring (9.0 ppg), total defense (221.8 yards per game), rushing defense (87.4 yards per game), pass defense (134.4 yards per game), and pretty much everything else. If you want to nit-pick, they were only number two in the conference in interceptions, and were fifth in sacks. But overall, a fantastic PAC-10 defense.

RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: 3(uh-oh?).

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: This one is easy. Taylor Mays couldn’t be any bigger, a 6-4, 225-lb free safety NIGHTMARE in the secondary.

Mays surprised a lot of people when he opted to return for his senior year, when many NFL mock drafts had him pegged as a sure-fire first round pick. And what is amazing about Mays is the way he can play at his size at free safety. 6-4, 225? That’s at least an outside linebacker on a lot of teams, and maybe even a defensive end. Instead he’s back there hitting the crap out of opposing WR’s.

He’s in the conversation as top defensive player in the conference, and one of the best in the country. One interesting aspect is the debate between Mays and Eric Berry, the all-everything safety from Tennessee. Of course the SEC angle is that Berry is better, and it’s hard to argue the numbers (Berry had more tackles, sacks, interceptions, etc compared to Mays last year). Not that it matters, but still, interesting to see the debate. Mays may not be a big-time stat hound, but there’s an awful lot he does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. And besides, who wants their free safety to be a top tackler on your team? Mays had NFL talent everywhere on a defense that saw five first-day draft picks this spring, so it was unrealistic to expect him to be this stat-stuffing monster. But with just three returning starters on D, there is no doubt who the best defensive player is coming back in ’09.

TOP THREE SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) Start at the top. How’s the QB battle look? From all accounts, Aaron Corp is the man. Corp played very little last year, attempting just four passes in ’08 as Marc Sanchez had a great year at QB. But can Corp really replace the top NFL draft choice/superhunk QB? Corp had a nice spring, showing everything the coaches are looking for in the spotlight position. He did everything asked of him, and then some, holding off challenges from Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain to take control of the helm…..at least RIGHT NOW. Per the LA Times, “right now” is a key phrase.

“At the end of the day, he’s been able to take the team down the field and not turn the ball over,” quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said. “That’s the biggest separation right now.”

Bates’ word choice — “right now” — was intentional. And Coach Pete Carroll could not seem to repeat often enough that the competition to replace Mark Sanchez would continue.

“By no means is this thing over,” Carroll said.

It should be one interesting fall camp to settle the position, but right now, Corp is the man who shall lead them.

2) Just THREE starters back on D? No Maualuga, Cushing, etc? Whatever are they to do!? Eh, don’t sweat it. SC’s defense will be just fine, just as it always is under Pete Carroll’s watchful eye. Yes, some big names at linebacker are gone to the next level in Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and defensive end/hybrid Clay Matthews. But the word on the street is that the young talent set to replace them could actually be faster than the likes of Maualuga and Cushing. SC does lose their top four tacklers, as well as their top sack guys in Kyle Moore, Clay Matthews and DT Fili Moala. But Everson Griffen is back at defensive end, and it is his time to live up to the hype. Pete Carroll once called him the best defensive recruit he ever had, so no time like the present to take the next step!

3) How about that schedule?
Not too shabby. Per Phil Steele, they weigh in with the 87th rated schedule in the country based on 2008 winning percentage. The first month is interesting, opening up with softball San Jose State before traveling to Columbus in week two to take on the Buckeyes in a major REVENGE game from last year’s 35-3 wipeout in LA. SC then goes to Seattle to play the “former assistants bowl” vs. Sarkisian and Holt, and then, they host the Cougs in LA to close out the month. However things do get a little dicey in October, with road games at Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon. They close out the season with three of their last four at home, and they are all games they should be heavily favored to win. So get through October, and they could be home free to another PAC-10 title.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: It has been an unbelievable run for USC. You are talking about a program that has, for SEVEN straight years, had at least 11 wins, been in a BCS bowl, had at least an AP top 4 finish, and of course, won the PAC-10. No team in the history of the conference has enjoyed such a dominant run. But is THIS the year they take a step back? There is so much lost from their defense of last year, one of the most talented USC defenses in school history, likely one of the most talented in PAC-10 history. Talent is one thing, game experience is another, and so you have to wonder if there might be some youthful mistakes early on?

Then again, it’s USC we’re talking about. Always at the top in the recruiting wars, they’ve been in these kinds of positions before. Heck, there was talk last year that USC might take a step back with a brand new QB in Sanchez taking over for John David Booty. And in fact, last year USC had just 11 starters coming back on the entire team, including just four on offense. But we know how that worked out, yet another PAC-10 title, Rose Bowl win, blah blah blah. So in reality, people might pick against USC this year based on what they lost, but they actually have MORE starters back in ’09 compared to a wonderful ’08!

We’ll have our official picks later this summer, but based on recent history, don’t just automatically assume they will come back to the pack.

That’s it for a Trojan Thursday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!

Spring Fish Wrap – Boys From Troy Edition

June 12, 2008


As a younger Coug fan, I used to hate USC. I really did. Back in the mid-to-late 90’s, they seemed to have a bunch of talented-yet-unmotivated kids who seemingly always underachieved on the field and loved to pop off about how great they were. But today, well, not so much. I’m not fair-weather, and I wouldn’t count myself as an SC fan, but something is different about them. Maybe it’s because I find it hard not to be in awe of what USC has going on. All those wins and Heisman trophies over the last several years, right the center of the celebrity universe that is LA. And maybe it’s something about representing the Pac-10 on the national level and kicking the crap out of teams from all corners of the country, just to show that we can play this game out here?

I’ve got it. It must be Pete Carroll. Arrogant, sure. Emotional? Absolutely. A hell of a recruiter? Check. A guy that not only can recruit the five-star talent, but keep them hungry and motivated at the same time? A guy who keeps things loose with practical jokes, yet isn’t afraid to have “open Wednesdays” where all starting positions are considered available for the taking at practice and the players go after it with all they’ve got? Somehow this guy gets the superstars to “buy in” to the USC way. And he has fun with the whole thing. I mean what other Pac-10 coach can go swimming with Will Ferrell?

That’s Pete Carroll.

Oh by the way….beyond the glitz and the glamour and the bull that goes with being the head man in the biggest football show in town, Carroll is now an unreal 76-14 in 7 years at SC. We got excited about three straight 10-win seasons, and rightly so. But these guys have AVERAGED a 10-2 record under Pete Carroll over the last 7 years. That is unbelievable. “High School Harry”, Carroll’s nickname given to him by former players from his NFL days as being an emotional rah-rah guy, is just a perfect guy in the right situation.

Ok, so that’s settled. I dig Pete Carroll. Now where was I? Oh yeah, spring football. On the field, a lot of NFL talent has fled LA-LA land after another 11-win, BCS bowl winning season in ’07. What do they have left this year? Let’s take a look at their post-spring state and see what’s up.

2007: 11-2, Rose Bowl Champs featuring a 49-17 beat-down of Illinois. Ho-hum.


Offensive Scheme: Traditional in an NFL sense, they are very much a pro set/west coast offense hybrid. Lots of snaps under center by the QB and they often have two backs and a tight end on the field. Steve Sarkisian is the OC and has been in place since Norm Chow bolted for Tennessee (and now back to UCLA). Sarkisian is a hot head coaching candidate, and nearly had the Oakland Raiders job prior to 2007. But USC is still somewhat similar to the USC of old, where they were tailback-U. They were balanced last year, averaging almost 200 rushing yards per game (197) and 237 yards passing. The bad news in trojan-land is that only four starters are projected back for ’08. The Trojans lose QB John David Booty, as well as tight-end Fred Davis and four-fifths of the starting O-line. Big shoes to fill, yes. But nobody reloads like these guys, where their depth are four-five star kids who have dreamed of playing in the Coliseum forever. It’s not like they are everyone else in the conference (and particularly up here) where a few key injuries and you are toast. And about that O-line. Sure, four starters are gone. But that number is misleading to an extent. Several starters from USC’s O-line last year missed time with injuries, so young linemen that are now atop the depth chart this season actually saw game action last year. So it’s not exactly as dire as it might sound.

Top Offensive Player: Joe McKnight. The true sophomore had as much hype as any true frosh heading into last season, and McKnight was thought of as a comparable talent to Reggie Bush. In hindsight, it was a little too much. McKnight did show flashes of brilliance, and you can see why everyone was ga-ga for him coming out as the #1 or #2 running back in the nation in the ’07 signing class. He did log 540 yards rushing and 3 TD’s, not bad for a true frosh in a crowded backfield. And the kid absolutely DESTROYED Illinois in the Rose Bowl, racking up 206 total yards of offense alone. He’s not exactly Reggie Bush, and he might not even have been the fastest frosh in the conference last year (Jahvid Best of Cal?). But he is pretty special and looks to have a monster year in ’08.

Defensive Scheme: A fairly vanilla 4-3 under d-coordinator Nick Holt. But while Carroll may have the d-coordinator in Holt on the staff, his fingerprints are all over the defense. Carroll’s bloodlines run deep with defense, and it shows with USC. They don’t bring the house too often, because they really don’t need to. Last year especially with D-tackle Sedrick Ellis and D-end Lawrence Jackson, as well as a ton of other depth up front, they got more than enough out of the D-line. They will blitz, but it isn’t a staple of what they do.

But oh, what a defense. Number-two in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense last year. And their linebackers? Unbelievably good, with all-everything candidates in Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing. Both guys have Rose Bowl defensive MVP awards under their belts. But the linebackers might not even be the best unit on the defense. The secondary is lights-out, led by Taylor Mays at free safety, a 6-4, 225 lb freak who looks like an NFL outside linebacker. Coming into ’08, as a unit they look to be as big, physical and as talented as any group you can find, this year or any other year for that matter. The secondary only gave up nine TD passes on the season, tops in the conference and almost half of what the number-two defense gave up through the air last year. That’s simply dominant.

Top Defensive Player: You could probably argue this one, but I’m going with the absolute monster in the middle, Rey Maualuga. 6-3, 250, eats lightning, craps thunder, your basic nightmare. He led a deep defense last year with 79 tackles, 10.5 for loss, with six sacks. And a TON of frightening hits over the last couple of years. Yeah, you basically don’t “F” with Rey.

Gary Rogers, if you see #58 coming at you with a full head of steam, get the heck out of the way ASAP. You don’t want to join the “hit list”.

Top Spring Questions:

1) The offense only has four starters back, and they lose Booty. Will the new QB, whoever that is, be good enough?

While there was a competition to replace Booty, the leader coming into the spring was the leader coming out of the spring. Mark Sanchez (pictured) will be the starter, holding off Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain for the starting gig. Sanchez actually played a few games last year as Booty went down with a broken finger, and did OK. Not great, but not terrible. He did complete over 60% of his passes with 7 TD’s against 5 INT’s. But this year is a whole new deal. It will be interesting to see how long a leash Sarkisian and Carroll have for Sanchez. Carroll especially isn’t one that will hide from an obvious QB controversy, so if Sanchez gets off to a slow start, you can bet Mustain will get a legit chance to play.

2) The defense sounds great, but can they really fill the shoes of the stars they lost?

That’s the one thing. Sure, they have 7 starters back, and they look like they will be a great defense. But they did lose some real leadership in Sedrick Ellis, Lawrence Jackson and Keith Rivers, all three guys first-day NFL draft picks. Jackson was really special last year, with 17 tackles-for-loss last year including 10.5 sacks, and character that was off-the-charts. You usually don’t see Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell making trades to get a player unless it’s a guy like Jackson. Ellis was pretty amazing himself as a d-tackle, with 12.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. That’s a lot of production to lose off your d-line. But if any team can deal with it, it’s USC. They will look more to heralded sophomore Everson Griffen to replace Jackson off the edge, and hyped senior d-tackle Fili Moala will need to step up his game to offset the loss of Ellis inside. That said, when you have so much coming back at all the other spots on defense, you know that they’ll figure something out!

WSU Football Blog Says: USC is playing their usual tough schedule, opening up at Virginia before hosting Ohio State on 9/13 in what will be billed as the top out-of-conference game in the nation in ’08. Whoever wins that one will likely be looked upon as having a major edge in the race to the Orange Bowl, this year’s BCS title game. But beyond Ohio State, the early schedule is a little prickly to say the least. After the Buckeyes, they must go to Corvallis on 9/25, then they host Oregon on 10/4 and ASU on 10/11 before they make the trek to Pullman on 10/18. You can easily argue that Oregon and ASU will be upper-division Pac-10 teams this year, and Oregon State will at least flirt with bowl-eligibility. New QB Sanchez is getting tossed right into the deep end of the pool, so we will find out quickly what he’s got.

On the bright side, our recent history isn’t all too shabby in Pullman vs. these guys. In ’06 we played them tough until we forgot to cover Steve Smith on pretty much every 3rd down(!), losing 28-22. In ’04 we were blown out in that horrible sleet/rain/snow game that saw Doba order an onside kick to start the game, only to see it sail about 15 yards out of bounds. Reggie Bush took one to the house a few plays later and that baby was bathed, diapered and put to bed about 3 minutes into the first quarter. But we all will remember that 2002 classic, the game that ultimately decided the Pac-10 title. Remember Rien Long?

He might have clinched the Outland trophy on that game alone. Or Gesser throwing for all those yards despite being under pressure the entire game? Or Carson Palmer hitting Mike Williams over a lunging Marcus Trufant on a deep TD with a few minutes to go in a moment that seemed to suck the life out of Martin Stadium? Or Drew Dunning having the late field goal partially blocked, only to somehow have the football “gods” blow that thing back between the uprights?? On that kick, I still remember some of the USC players briefly celebrating after the thud of someone getting a hand on the ball, thinking the kick wasn’t going to make it. But somehow, it squirted through. But most of all, I will always remember Long in that game. He absolutely blew up the Trojans in that OT session, where he had a tackle-for-loss and a sack, single-handedly knocking USC out of field goal range. God Bless you, Captain Caveman!

It will be a tall task this year, obviously. But here’s hoping for a mid-October classic in Pullman.

HAPPY THURSDAY!