USC vs. Arkansas - Keys to the Game
Posted Aug 31, 2006

John Harris breaks down and analyzes the biggest games of the weekend.

By John Harris

a. DJ #8 – When a team is so powerful offensively or defensively, there are some players who ride the coattails of the stars to superstardom, while there are others who thrive when forced to be the star the next year.  Follow?  The point is fairly obvious when it comes to discussing USC WR Dwayne Jarrett.  Playing in an offense that featured two Heisman Trophy winners – Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, Jarrett, for as good as he is, was never going to be the focus of opposing defenses at any point.  Shoot, even on 4th and 9 with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter he wasn’t the focus.  Regardless, critics will point to his success and think that he was a  byproduct of Bush’s ability to slice through opposing defenses and former roommate Leinart’s ability to stick a ball through a pinhole to Jarrett.  So, how good is he?  Well, Arkansas is about to find out that with or without Leinart and/or Bush, Jarrett is going to be the force for this offense.  The size, the speed, the hands – DJ is the complete package, and for that reason should command the attention that Bush and Leinart demanded last season.  What makes Jarrett perhaps even more of a threat is the fact that Arkansas DC Reggie Herring doesn’t like to sit back and not be aggressive.  In being aggressive, though, he puts corners Matteral Richardson and/or Chris Houston out on an island against Jarrett, which isn’t a great place to be on a hot Saturday night in Fayetteville.  So, Herring has a decision to make – roll the dice and get pressure on USC QB John David Booty or give his corners help on Jarrett.  Not an easy decision.  Jarrett is so good at getting inside corners on deep slant routes and can escape the jam at the line of scrimmage in press man that choosing to go one-on-one with him has dire consequences.  Hey, who really needs Bush or Leinart, when you have a DJ to spin on the 1’s and 2’s?

b.  Peyton’s place – The fullback has seemingly suffered a cruel fate over the past 25 years, in particular since the death of the wishbone.  Trust me that was a sad day when the wishbone fell out of vogue in college football.  Regardless, most fullbacks throughout the nation have turned into glorified guards in the backfield or have been eliminated altogether.  Then, there’s an undefinable entity like current Hog FB/TB/RB Peyton Hillis.  Similar to Rutgers’s Times Square cover boy Brian Leonard, Hillis’s wide array of talents give new OC Gus Malzahn some options and some headaches.  Headaches?  Well, yeah, from the standpoint of how does Malzahn truly maximize Hillis’s running and catching abilities out of the backfield?  How many touches can he get for Hillis?  Is Hillis able to be effective with RB Felix Jones in the backfield together or will he not block well enough for Jones to be in the game together at the same time?  That’s the bad news, but where Hillis may ‘save’ the Hogs is how much he can provide for this offense that loses perhaps the most explosive player in the SEC, Darren McFadden, for this game.  Hillis won’t blow past USC’s talented and deep front seven like D Mc would’ve done, but he’ll provide more of a ‘different’ aspect to the offense with his power running.  With the way that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, he helps stretch the USC defense further to the sideline, opening holes inside for Jones to exploit.  Hillis doesn’t get a ton of touches in a game, but in this game, that may have to change.

c. The Return – Injuries are a fact of life for a football player.  Torn ACLs.  Turf toes.  Sprains, twists and tears.  Guys miss games, miss seasons and sometimes have their careers ended.  USC OLB Dallas Sartz was one of those guys who suffered through last season on the shelf with a shoulder injury, and it was the best and worst thing to happen to this defense all at the same time.  Sartz stepped into the lineup in 2004 and was a solid player in every respect.  He was the last player they could afford to lose for a whole season, but they did in 2005.  However, Sartz’s absence opened the door for guys like Brian Cushing to get some valuable playing time as freshmen.  Now, with Sartz returning and Cushing and others as well, the USC linebackers have depth and experience which bodes well facing a spread attack like the one they’ll see on Saturday night.  Sartz can do a little bit of everything – he can blitz off the edge, play in coverage and move in space – which makes him the perfect chess piece for USC head coach Pete Carroll to use against the Hogs.  The loss of McFadden puts a little less pressure on Sartz and his linebackers, but if there’s one unit that must play well, especially after the Rose Bowl loss to Texas, it’s this group.  But, with Sartz returning, that should happen on many levels.

Conclusion – Is it possible for a team to turn around a 70 – 17 defeat one to a victory the next?  With McFadden in the backfield, perhaps, but not without him.  The USC offensive machine  won’t be clicking on all cylinders from jump, but stopping Jarrett and WR Steve Smith might be too tough a chore for the Hogs.  Arkansas QB Robert Johnson has played well in fall camp, but it’s asking way too much for him to carry this unit against the USC front seven.  It’ll be closer, but still a victory for the Men of Troy.

USC – 34 vs. Arkansas – 21