January 1, 2007

USC again dominates Michigan

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PASADENA, Calif. Southern California's Brian Cushing needed only a couple of plays to know his sore left knee would be just fine.

Cushing made 2 1/2 sacks and was in on seven tackles Monday to lead a dominating performance by USC's defense in a 32-18 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

"I was concerned in pre-game. I knew from the second play of the game I was OK," said Cushing, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound sophomore from Park Ridge, N.J., who splits time between defensive end and linebacker.

Cushing, the defensive player of the game, was injured in practice Dec. 22. He thought it was no big deal at the time, but the pain came and went.

"About two days ago, I was really getting nervous about it," he said. "It's numb now - the happiness of the game takes over."

Cushing and his defensive mates dominated the Wolverines even more than they did three years ago in another Rose Bowl victory, sacking Chad Henne a season-high six times and limiting Mike Hart to a season-low 47 yards rushing.

Michigan managed only a field goal and 124 yards of total offense in the first three quarters, and gained many of its 321 yards after the outcome was decided.

"We just knew what they were going to do," Cushing said. "They were coming straight at us."

It was 3-3 early in the third quarter when Henne, under the kind of heavy rush he saw most of the day, threw a short pass over the middle. It went directly to defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson, whose interception at the Michigan 38 set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Later in the period, with the Trojans leading 16-3, Cushing sacked Henne, forced a fumble and Jackson recovered at the Michigan 32. That led to a field goal.

"With the guys that we have and the speed that we have, we thought it would turn out this way," said Jackson, who's never lacking in confidence. "We knew if we came to play and were where we were supposed to be, we could dominate like that. You never envision it this big.

"They're a traditional offense - they're not trying to trick you. They rely on their players being better than yours. We had the better players today."

The Trojans raised their Rose Bowl record against Michigan to 6-2, having beaten the Wolverines three straight times in Pasadena - including a 28-14 triumph three years ago in which they sacked John Navarre nine times.

No. 8 USC (11-2) lists only three seniors on its two-deep defensive depth chart. That defense peaked late in the season, allowing 56 points in the last five regular-season games. Pete Carroll has called it the fastest and deepest defense in his six years as USC's coach.

The Trojans beat up the Wolverines by disguising their coverages and by blitzing from all directions. Cushing said USC blitzed 60 percent to 70 percent of the time.

"That's about right," agreed linebacker Dallas Sartz. "Every game we have different people rushing, different people dropping back. We watched enough film and scouted them enough. We knew their tendencies."

Hart, who carried 17 times, had a previous low of 91 yards against Wisconsin. He was the only running back in the country to rush for at least 90 yards in every game during the regular season.

When the 5-foot-9, 196-pound junior gained 11 on his first carry, it appeared he was on his way again. But he was held in check the rest of the way.

"When you have a great run-stopping defense, as we do this year, it's pretty tough to get that kind of momentum going and getting yards on the ground against us," USC linebacker Oscar Lua said. "It worked out magnificently that coach Carroll implemented that defense and it worked out for us.

"They were zone blocking, and by the time they were able to pick up and see who they had to block, we were already around them."

Michigan finished with 12 yards on the ground after netting a minus-9 on 16 carries in the first half, when Henne was sacked five times for 33 yards. The Wolverines had allowed 18 sacks in 12 previous games.

USC has won 56 of its last 60 games, but entered with a two-game losing streak at the Rose Bowl, losing 41-38 to Texas in the national championship game last January and 13-9 to UCLA on Dec. 2, knocking the Trojans out of this year's title game.

The Trojans now are 22-9 in a record 31 appearances in the Rose Bowl game.

For more coverage of USC, visit USCFootball.com; for more on Michigan, visit TheWolverine.com.


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