Is Carroll the Man With the Plan to Stop Young?

Give USC Coach Pete Carroll a month to prepare for a major bowl and watch him stop:

* Iowa, 38-17, in the 2003 Orange Bowl.

* Michigan, 28-14, in the 2004 Rose Bowl.

* Oklahoma, 55-19, in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Give Carroll a month to prepare and watch him stop ... Texas?

It gets more complex tonight because Carroll has not seen an offense like the Longhorns' outside his own complex.

Carroll has devised game plans for good players but never one like Vince Young, the best running quarterback in college since Michael Vick and a pretty decent passer, if you consider decent leading the NCAA in efficiency during the regular season with a rating of 168.6.

As an assistant coach at Pacific in 1983, Carroll got a long-legged look at quarterback Randall Cunningham of Nevada Las Vegas.

Carroll remembers Cunningham being a gangly blur with a big arm, describing him as "hurdling over" Pacific players. (Final score: UNLV 28, Pacific 7.)

"I haven't seen Vince do that yet," Carroll said of the hurdling talent, "but he's got it in him if he needs it, I'm sure."

It was funny how they trotted two Pete Carrolls out for interviews early this week. The first was Head Coach Pete, face-of-the-program, overall-picture, jokester Pete.

The BCS?

"Is it one guy, like the Wizard of Oz kind of thing?" Carroll wondered.

The next day, a more detail-specific Carroll took questions beneath the placard of "defensive coordinator," which technically is his day (and sometimes night) job.

"There's been a great process getting ready for this," Carroll the coordinator said. "We're deep, deep in preparation."

The room in which a coordinator prepares for Vince Young must be a cold, lonely place.

Carroll burst out laughing when it was suggested that he might have "enjoyed" the process, but then admitted it really had stirred his competitive juices.

Whether Carroll and staff have constructed a strategy to slow Young is the key to the Trojans winning their third consecutive Associated Press national title in tonight's Rose Bowl game.

In a weird way, the 39th-ranked USC defense might actually have a shot at this.

The challenge is almost inside out when compared to last year's proposition against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, when Oklahoma's weakness played into USC's defensive strengths.

The Trojans had a dominating front, led by Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson. Oklahoma countered with injury-slowed pocket passer Jason White.

White, twice sacked and forced into three interceptions in a 55-19 debacle, was the proverbial "sitting duck."

"We all knew he had a couple of knee surgeries and he was not going to take off and run," Trojan defensive end Frostee Rucker said. "This guy [Young] is different."

USC's front line this year is not as dominant, its pass rush not as fierce.

Interestingly, though, containing the quarterback this year may be more important than sacking him.

The danger in bull-rushing Young is getting to the spot where you think he is, only to discover that Young, like Elvis, has left the arena.

"Not only do you have to get to the quarterback," defensive end Lawrence Jackson explained, "you have to get there under control."

The Trojans don't have Cody and Patterson this time, but they have fast ends and linebackers, which could be the right combination to hold Young in check.

Carroll isn't about to reveal his plan, but it seems obvious that USC has to put Young "in a box" and prevent him from the ad-lib runs that can destroy game plans.

Young is improved as a thrower. He's completing 63.9% of his passes this year for 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns.

When it comes down to it, though, you must choose Young's arm over his legs.

Young has a funky throwing motion and has been prone to spurts of wildness. His legs, though, rarely betray him.

Possible game-plan backdrop:

On Nov. 5, minutes before underdog Miami took the field against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., former Miami coach Fran Curci, now a radio analyst, was asked how he thought the game was going to go.

Curci didn't hesitate, saying that Miami's athletic defense would not let Marcus Vick beat them with his feet -- and that's exactly how it played out.

Miami dominated and won, 27-7, and Vick had a miserable game, completing only eight of 22 passes for 90 yards. He gained seven yards in 17 carries, was sacked five times and committed six turnovers.

A month later, against Florida State, another fast defense, Virginia Tech suffered its second loss, 27-22, in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

Vick had 11 yards rushing.

Vick is a mobile quarterback with a big arm.

Vick is not Vince Young.

"There's nobody like this," Carroll said.

Tossing a defensive fish net around Young might not be enough. And it may be a trap.

Carroll: "He's so good, he draws all your attention on a team loaded with talent."

There appear few other options, though, other than losing.

Give Pete Carroll a month to prepare and watch him try to stop Texas.

"It's too much time, almost," Carroll said.

Time is almost up.

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