Where’s The D?

It’s been a long-standing joke around the country that the Pacific 10 Conference doesn’t play defense, or much of it anyway. It’s an exaggeration, of course, because USC won back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004, and was within a defensive stop of Texas quarterback Vince Young from making it a record-setting three in a row.

That aside, the perception is that schools in the Southeastern Conference such as Alabama, Florida and Louisiana State, which have dominated the Bowl Championship Series title game recently, exemplify in-your-face, smash-mouth defense.

Even undefeated and No. 3-ranked Oregon surrendered three scores to a weak Washington State squad.

The Ducks prevailed 43-23, but it shouldn’t have been that close if they were able to match their high-octane offense with a powerful defense.

This season there seems to be some merit to the claim even though the Pac-10 has three excellent teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

Let’s examine USC, which couldn’t for the second consecutive game slow down the opposition when it had to, and by failing were handed a second loss in the closing seconds last Saturday night when host Stanford won, 37-35, on a 30-yard field goal by Nate Whitaker.

The Trojans (4-2 and 1-2 in conference) moved in front, 35-34, when running back Allen Bradford (33 yards on 13 carries) scored on a three-yard run as 1:08 remained.

The No. 16 Cardinal have Andrew Luck at quarterback, and the third-year sophomore took over at the Stanford 26.

In cool fashion, Luck (20 of 24 for 285 yards and three touchdowns) moved his club down the field, giving Whitaker, who missed an extra point in the fourth quarter after Chris Owusu’s 87-yard kickoff return set up Luck’s third scoring pass that gave the Cardinal (5-1 and 2-1 in conference) a 34-28 edge. This time, Whitaker didn’t miss, nailing the game-winner as time ran out.

Only a week prior, Washington quarterback Jake Locker advanced the Huskies through USC’s defense, with Erik Folk’s 32-yard boot sailing through the uprights as time expired, giving Washington a 32-31 victory.

USC jumped to a 7-0 lead with 8:17 left in the first quarter when true freshman running back Dillon Baxter (four carries for 22 yards) scored his first varsity touchdown on an eight-yard run.

The play capped a 73-yard, 11-play drive and came out of the “Wildcat’’ formation with quarterback Matt Barkley used as a wide receiver.

Well-designed and perfectly-executed, Baxter took the snap from center, veered left, but quickly cut up the middle for the score.

Barkley tied it at 14-14 when he tossed a six-yard pass to true freshman wide receiver Robert Woods. On the night, Woods grabbed 12 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns.

When Barkley (28 of 45 for 390 yards) found Woods on a 61-yard strike, the Trojans tied it at 21-21, and about three minutes left in the third quarter.

On fourth and two, Barkley, who has thrown 15 touchdowns with four interceptions and 1,517 yards, added a six-yard scoring pass to Woods that knotted the score at 28-28, and closed out an eight-play, 67-yard drive as 11:11 remained in the fourth quarter.

It should have been an evening to celebrate Woods’ coming out party, but it was USC’s porous defense and poor tackling that everyone was talking about.

Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at richsports5@sbcglobal.net.

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