Each week, WeAreSC columnist Jeremy Hogue will answer strategy and USC team questions in this mailbag:
1. Opponents are using coverage schemes that are loaded up to stop the USC vertical passing game. Talk about what they are doing and how the Trojans will have to adjust.
Many smart people commented in the offseason that the USC passing game was simple -- if corners played off of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, the threw the quick lateral pass and picked up 5-yards plus; and if they came up and played tight, they threw the fade and counted on Woods and Lee (particularly Lee, who was a surprise to defensive coordinators) going to get the ball. It worked. Now you are seeing defenses -- with an offseason to prepare -- play tighter to the line, and even if they are 5-8 yards off, as soon as they read the quick pass, they are vaulting up to make tackles near the line. They are also sliding safeties over the top and effectively preventing the deep fade as well.
But as always, when you take something away, you open something else up. First and foremost, the Trojans need to run the ball and force the safeties to be involved in the run game. And then next, the Trojans backs and tight ends -- if Matt Barkley can get time -- should be matched against linebackers in the middle of the field.
2. In your opinion, what is Morgan Breslin doing that is allowing him to have such an early impact?
More than anything, Breslin has a motor. I know these are lofty comparisons, but if you think of guys like Clay Matthews or Jared Allen, that’s their key. They are fast, they play with great leverage, and they just have high motors and keep going at a high rate of speed and activity even after a lineman makes initial contact. They’re a little weaker when you come right at them, but all other times, they just go hard until they hear a whistle and make a lot more plays than they ever give up. A lot of guys come off the ball hard, but as soon as a lineman is on them, they slow down or get burnt out by the fight. Breslin just keeps going and is a real bright spot for the Trojans.
3. T.J. McDonald is playing at a high level lately, talk about how the coaches are using him that is allowing him to be so effective.
After seeing McDonald at spring practice and again at fall camp, I had huge expectations for him for this season, and they are coming to fruition. It’s been nice to see him make as many plays as he does, and the defensive staff has enough faith in him to put him all over the field, which is a great asset for Monte Kiffin to have. They’ve used him in their blitz package. Against Stanford, he had a great game up at the line of scrimmage in run-stopping duties. Against Cal, he was roaming the secondary more often and came up with the defensive play of the game with his interception. And all the while, he’s played smart -- no penalties for roughness or helmet-to-helmet hits. He seems to have a vastly increased confidence and the game is coming easy to him.