Pressure will be on the Trojans
Back when the “Desert Swarm” defense was terrorizing college football, burying quarterbacks under a torrent of blitzes, Matt Barkley was still in kindergarten learning his ABCs.
On Saturday afternoon, Barkley could get a history lesson.
That’s because the USC quarterback will face a San Jose State team coached by Dick Tomey, the man behind Arizona’s famed defense of the 1990s.
It appears that, after all these years, not much has changed with Tomey.
“If you’ve ever watched us play,” he says of his current team, “you know that we get off the bus pressuring the quarterback.”
Despite the talent gap between the fourth-ranked Trojans and the Spartans -- a middle-of-the-pack team from the Western Athletic Conference -- Tomey’s scheming could spell trouble for the first true freshman quarterback in USC history to start an opener.
A freshman who had 18 passes intercepted against high school defenses last fall.
While Barkley was making those mistakes at Santa Ana Mater Dei, San Jose State ranked 10th nationally against the pass and 11th in sacks.
Call it the “Silicon Valley Stampede.”
The Spartans lost two cornerbacks and a defensive lineman to the NFL during the off-season, but their modified 4-2-5 formation has seven returning starters, including a strong pair of linebackers and the Ihenacho brothers of Carson.
Carl, at defensive end, led the nation in tackles for loss before injuring his thumb. Duke, at safety, led the WAC with five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
“They pressure well and they cover with a variety of things they do,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said. “It will be as complex a defensive system as we’ll go against all year.”
The emphasis on pass rush is reminiscent of Tomey’s days as coach in Tucson, where the double-eagle flex defense favored a small, quick attack.
College football got its first taste of “Desert Swarm” in 1992 as Arizona led the nation in scoring defense. The next season, nose guard Rob Waldrop won the Outland Trophy as college football’s top lineman.
Tedy Bruschi, the New England Patriots linebacker who retired on Monday after 13 years in the NFL, was a unanimous All-American in 1995 and, three years later, the defense led Arizona to a 12-1 record and a victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
All of which qualifies as ancient history for Barkley.
“I don’t think I was aware of football at that age,” he said.
But while the Spartans might be quietly planning to rattle him at the Coliseum, in public Tomey is careful not to claim an edge.
“USC, in my opinion, has the best program in the country over the last seven years, so it’s impossible to attribute any disadvantage to them,” Tomey said.
The coach frets about not having any videotape of Barkley against college defenses. He and his staff were relegated to watching his high school games.
“If it’s Mark Sanchez, he’s a terrific player but we’d have a lot of film on him,” Tomey said. “With an inexperienced quarterback, that creates an unknown.”
So the Spartans insist they haven’t prepared for USC by adding any special blitzes or disguised coverages.
As Tomey put it: “We do that anyway.”
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.