Each week, WeAreSC columnist Jeremy Hogue will answer strategy and USC team questions in this mailbag:
1) Why was the Stanford run game so effective against USC?
The good news for USC is that for a good portion of the game, it wasn’t. The problem the Trojans had -- which seemed to show up a bit late in the Syracuse game as well -- is that the depth isn’t what it’s been in the past. Late in games against teams who are physical up front, USC’s front seemed to wear down. But in all honesty, if the offense had played better, you’d take the result that the defense gave on Saturday. And as you look forward, there is no team that will come at the Trojans as physically as Stanford did the rest of the season (unless they meet again in the Pac-12 Championship Game).
2) What is the toughest adjustment for a center when there is a nose tackle lined up right over him?
A big, physical nose guard who is trying to blow you up on every snap is an issue, especially for a young center. The center’s disadvantage is having his snap hand between his legs when a big nose guard comes barreling into him, and if you step back in pass protection like you would if you were uncovered, you will simply be on tracks going backwards. We saw that on Saturday and, to be fair, even saw it with Khaled Holmes a few times against Syracuse. The advantage the center has is that he knows the snap count, and if he is quick, he can be stepping forward and jamming the nose guard with his head and hands while his other hand is between his legs -- and be on the nose guard before he ever gets out of his stance. Even on pass protection with a nose guard like that, you have to step into him and take him on. (I was fortunate to work with Doug Smith -- a multi-year NFL All-Pro center for the L.A. Rams -- who taught me those lessons early in my career at that position). That didn’t happen on Saturday.
3) What went wrong with the USC O-line against Stanford and how can the Trojans change this week with another 3-4 defense on the way?
The learning curve is a steep one for young players, and a line can grow up dramatically in a week like this where it is humbled, job security is taken away, and you start to play like you are in a fight for your life. It seemed like this group thought that success would just happen for them automatically, and there wasn’t the realization that you have to earn it on every play physically with good technique, no missed assignments, etc. Taking one play off is too many. This group has to commit to perfection and have the mindset that it has to earn it. You have to look forward to every play when it is called in the huddle because you know exactly what you are going to do to punish the guy across from you. There can’t be uncertainty. Even if you are wrong, go knock somebody on the ground. I expect that attitude will be corrected this week, and that the O-line will come with a much-improved focus on physically dominating an opponent. If that’s there, and some technique and assignment issues are straightened out, whether it’s a 3-4 or 4-3 shouldn’t matter.