Luck, Harbaugh, Sherman talk USC

LA native Richard Sherman

A somber Andrew Luck answered questions without that goofy grin and happy-go-lucky attitude at the media press conference Tuesday. An emotional letdown was expected after a tough loss but now the Cardinal must mentally prepare for USC.

Richard Sherman pointed to the six-hour rule that Jim Harbaugh has instituted. Players can celebrate a victory or lament a loss for six hours after the conclusion of a game, that's it. Sherman said that if anything, the setback at Eugene provided the team with additional motivation.

"People are going to show up and people are going to play with a chip on their shoulders," he said. "There's obviously some extra motivation. We just lost and are pretty mad because we had higher expectations for ourselves than what we showed in that game."

There will be no shortage of motivation for the Trojans either. They are also coming off an emotional loss that ended with a Washington field goal for the second year in a row.

And even though Lane Kiffin said it will not be discussed by him this week, you can't discount the embarrassing loss the Men of Troy took in their home castle last season which included the infamous, "what's your deal," two-point conversion attempt.

"The final score probably peeved guys off more than the two-point conversion," Sherman said. "Some people are counting them out as an irrelevant team in the Pac-10, a middling team, but people forget they are still USC."

USC may still have that intimidating namesake factor no matter how good or bad things are going, but this is not your older brother's Trojans.

After last week's loss, USC has fallen out of the Top 25 for just the second time since 2002. The NCAA sanctions have taken a toll, costing USC seven players between transfers and de-commitments. Kiffin has repeatedly talked about the lack of depth on the team this season.

And the Trojan defense…it's just plain awful. The legendary Monte Kiffin installed the "Tampa 2" defense, which is more of a bend-but-don't-break scheme. Nonetheless, the backbone of the USC defense has been shattered in every game this season, except for Virginia and Washington State.

"Sometimes they are still in the process of digesting the defense instead of playing fast," the younger Kiffin said this week.

The USC defense graduated a handful of players to the NFL last year and only returned five starters. The secondary did not return a starter for the first time in eons, so a group of inexperienced defensive backs is playing the pass including a true freshman at safety.

The Trojans come into this contest ranked 99th in total defense. They have surrendered 10 touchdowns through the air and fundamental tackling has been a glaring problem. But just like every opponent, you won't hear Harbaugh whisper a hint of weakness.

"This front seven is dynamite. They're fast, they're athletic and they're very well-coached," he said. "Monte Kiffin is a coaching legend and you can see why when you put the tape on. We expect multiple fronts, multiple coverages and multiple blitzes."

Offensively, USC is as dangerous as ever. It ranks in the Top 15 nationally in total offense, rushing offense and pass efficiency. The change in coaching staffs prompted a few tweaks from a schematic standpoint, but the Trojans still operate a pro-style offensive system.

Much like Stanford, the Trojans have a stable of capable running backs to call on. Four players have more than 20 carries on the season and that doesn't include the bruising Stanley Havili. USC averages nearly 235 yards per game on the ground and Allen Bradford has been a workhorse in recent weeks. He ripped off 223 yards and two scores on just 21 carries last Saturday against Washington.

"Bradford is a big, physical back that reminds me somewhat of Toby [Gerhart]. They're all outstanding," Harbaugh said.

The receiving corps is just as lethal. Ronald Johnson paces the team with 26 catches for 358 yards and five touchdowns. Matt Barkley misses his target as infrequently as Luck does. He leads the Pac-10 in efficiency with 12 touchdowns against four interceptions.

"They pose a lot of different challenges—a wide range of size, speed, route-running ability—and it starts with Ronald Johnson," Sherman said. "You have to find a way to get him contained. They're going to run him deep, they're going to run him here, they're going to run him there and they're going to run him in the slot."

Stanford was ranked 11th in total defense before the debacle last Saturday. After the quacks rolled up 52 points and 626 yards—the most allowed since 2007—the Cardinal defense slipped to 44th in the country. But after facing a trio of up-tempo, spread offenses in a row, a slower and more conventional attack might be just what the doctor ordered.

Luck and Harbaugh mentioned Monday was the best practice the team has had all year. That focus will have to display itself on Saturday, when a revenge-driven USC team comes to town.

About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Bookmaker, Covers and Red Hott Locks. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at scottwcooley@gmail.com


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