Friday, 1 November 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 68: Can USC Block Scott Crichton? Like At All?

Who is playing in this game?

The USC Trojans and the Oregon State Beavers.

Where is this game being played?

Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.

What time does this game start and where can I find it on my television?

6:00 PM (PT) on ESPN2

What is the point spread?

Oregon State is favored by five points (-5). The line opened at -2.

What should I watch for when USC has the ball?

Christopher Hanwinckel/USA Today Sports

How is USC going to account for Scott Crichton? Crichton, a two time All-Pac-12 selection well on his way to a third, has been a tremendously disruptive force both against the run and the pass and USC's offensive line is in flux. The Trojans have struggled to block all season and will probably be without starting right tackle Kevin Graf who was carted off the field last week and possibly left tackle Aundrey Walker who missed most of USC's practices this week. The Trojans are also depleted at tight end and running back, the two positions that need to help against pass rushers.

If USC can account for Crichton, they may be able to run the ball against the Beavers. While Utah and Stanford are both schematically different than the Trojans, both run the ball with power and that's what USC always tries to establish. Lost in the hoopla about how bad USC's offense has been all season is how well the Trojans have produced on the ground. Prior to last week, the Trojans had averaged four yards per carry in five of seven games and scored at least one touchdown on the ground in every game. Than last week came around and the Trojans ran for 30 yards on 30 attempts (that includes yards lost to sacks) with no touchdowns. Cody Kessler is averaging only 7.2 yards per pass attempt with three touchdowns and four interceptions so USC can't afford to put the game on his shoulders. USC's success on offense will be determined by the play off their offensive line. If the big boys play like they did against Utah, then they will be swallowed up. If USC can run block they way they did in most of its other games, then the Trojans will be able to put a few drives together.

What should I watch for when Oregon State has the ball?

Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

A lot has been made this week of Oregon State being"exposed" by Stanford. It's true that the Beavers went into their game against Stanford leading the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns and were shut down by the Cardinal but, can USC really replicate Stanford's formula? They can definitely do at least half of it. Stanford had success against Oregon State because they were able to get pressure by rushing only four men. OSU QB Sean Mannion loves seeing opposing teams blitz him because it leaves his receivers in one on one match ups and he can make a quick read and get rid of the ball within a couple seconds of the snap. What Mannion hates is holding onto the ball and waiting for a receiver to break open. As Stanford showed, if you can collapse the pocket with only your front four, then you can stop the Beavers' offense. The Trojans certainly do have the weapons in their front four to cause problems with stars like Leonard Williams and Devon Kennard but doubts linger in the USC secondary.

It's ideal to force Mannion to hold on to the ball and frustrate him but it won't do you much good if your defensive backs can't cover. Just because you drop seven defensive backs against five receivers does not mean you will automatically keep any one from getting open. This is the critical difference between what Stanford did and what USC can do. Stanford's defensive backs were immaculate against the Beavers while USC has struggled in the back end all year and is banged up to boot. starting corner back Anthony Brown will be out for a third straight game and starting safety Su'a Cravens is doubtful after being carted off last week. If the Trojans can hold up in their secondary, they will be able to slow the Beavers down to match the slow pace of their own offense. If the Trojans can't find a Stanford-like remedy for Brandin Cooks and friends, the Beavers will roll.

Which team should I bet on and which team will win?

With its starting offensive tackles and top three tight ends all either out or playing hurt, USC just can't run the ball tonight especially not with Crichton staring them down on the other side. USC should get to Mannion and take him down a few times but they just don't have the personnel to put a lid on Cooks the way Stanford did. Lay the points and take Oregon State to win, 27-20.

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