Perhaps no player embodies USC’s recent defensive transformation more than sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey. In part, that’s because of his size.Speed kills · Three sophomores anchor USC’s linebacking corps. Dion Bailey (18) and Lamar Dawson (55) combined for 106 tackles in 2011. – Daily Trojan file photoBailey stands at 6 feet tall and weighs 210 pounds, which is roughly the size of the prototypical wide receiver or defensive back, not the standard linebacker. He’s smaller than most at his position — so small that USC might not have even offered him a scholarship 10 years ago. But he is quick: His motor rarely stops running, and he can cover a lot of ground.A converted safety, Bailey starkly contrasts some of the Trojans’ recent All-American linebackers, such as Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, who were each at least two inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Bailey.But Bailey represents the latest trend in college football and at USC: prioritizing speed over size.“We do that on purpose,” said Scottie Hazelton, the Trojans’ linebackers coach. “We get speed guys in there, because when teams go to the one-back or the spread stuff, you need a guy like that to run outside the box. The days of the big 250-pound linebackers are gone.”As the season opener on Sept. 1 against Hawai’i nears, USC’s defense has evolved to emphasize speed as a way to stop spread offenses, which are increasingly common throughout the Pac-12 and college football.The spread is an umbrella term that describes a variety of wide-open offenses that range from the zone-read option installed by Chip Kelly at Oregon to the Air Raid offense triggered under Mike Leach at Washington State.There are variations, but the unifying principals are these: no huddle, shotgun snap, one running back, no fullback and four or five wide receivers.The goal, first and foremost, is to spread defenders across the width of the field to give running backs and receivers more space. This is why hybrid linebackers in the mold of Bailey are so common nowadays, smaller but more comfortable in pass coverage and closing in to tackle a player in space.Defenses, especially out west, have adjusted in the hope of slowing down teams that utilize the spread system, most notably Oregon. And it’s easy to grasp why: The Ducks have won three consecutive conference titles while averaging more than 40 points per contest in each of the last two season — the first school in Pac-12 history to do so.“We’re getting more speed on the field,” Bailey said. “We’re not playing in the SEC, you know, ground and pound. We have to be able to run sideline to sideline. That’s how we’ve built our defense.”Naturally, the Trojans’ top two strongside linebackers are now converted defensive backs in Bailey and senior Tony Burnett, who moved over during the spring.“Really, your linebackers are becoming defensive ends, your smaller [defensive] backers are becoming your inside backers and your safeties are becoming outside linebackers,” Hazelton said. “It’s the way of the world.”Hybrid defenders give schools an advantage in that coaches don’t have to change schemes. They’re not tossing aside playbooks and changing philosophies to combat the spread. They’re targeting different types of athletes.“You have to recruit differently,” said USC defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron. “More speed. And it’s not just speed. These guys have to make plays in open spaces, because the spread teams’ll create one on ones.”Initially, teams combated the spread by instituting “Nickel” or “Dime” packages that would bring in an extra defensive back, or two, as in the latter case. This strategy, however, would mean their defenses would be vulnerable against a good running game or a balanced spread team.So for USC, which has utilized a 4-3 defense for the last decade, four down lineman and three linebackers, it doesn’t need to dramatically switch schemes. It’s just using different players such as Bailey, big enough to inch close to the line of scrimmage and stop a bruising fullback, and quick enough to stay with a speedy wideout 20 yards down field. And it can disguise coverages, too.But this defensive makeover, so to speak, hasn’t occurred overnight.Two years ago, USC posted its worst statistical season since 1955, giving up 400 yards per game — a program worst. And through the first five games last fall, that average mark improved by just 20 yards per contest.“Oh, we were still new to the system,” Bailey said, trying to hold back a grin. “Our first year, we were extremely bad. Our second year, we were just trying to turn it around. We had a lot of new guys. Now, we actually have some experience.”The Trojans certainly do have some experience with eight returning starters back on defense, including injured senior defensive end Devon Kennard, who tore a pectoral muscle in late July and could miss most of the season. The entire back seven returns, highlighted by preseason candidate for the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back and All-American free safety T.J. McDonald, who chose to forgo the NFL draft and return for his senior season.And then again, there’s also Bailey, who along with sophomore linebacker Hayes Pullard, who last year led the team in tackles with 81.“We have all the guys in place,” McDonald said. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing, but I think we’ll be that shutdown defense that everybody is asking for.”
Megan McCormick / The Badger HeraldEntering the fifth inning of Sunday’s game between Penn State and Wisconsin, the speakers at Goodman Diamond cranked up “Jump Around,” as fans and Badger players alike were caught enjoying a few jumps of their own.When you’re winning like this Wisconsin team, you can enjoy moments like these.The Badgers (27-13, 10-4 Big Ten) dismantled the Nittany Lions (13-26, 5-10 Big Ten) in a three-game series this past weekend, sweeping their opponent with 4-1, 8-0 and 9-0 victories. Wisconsin now currently owns an eight-game winning streak on their home field, as the sweep over Penn State was the program’s first since 1997.“It’s fun to see them keep getting better,” Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy said. “That’s a big thing that we’ve focused on all year. Today’s win for Cassandra [Darrah], to go from giving up eight hits yesterday to two today, she really had a nice improvement.”In the Badgers final game of the series Sunday, the team once again unleashed an offensive onslaught that led to the Lions being mercy-ruled in the fifth. Benefiting from strong performances from the middle of their batting order, including two-hit performances from both Kendall Grimm and Whitney Massey, Wisconsin cruised to a 9-0 victory.The series finale started off with a bang, as the Badgers chased the Lions’ starting pitcher, Marissa Diescher (5-7), out of the game in the bottom of the first inning without recording a single out. The Badgers scored four runs on two hits in the first frame, as Shannel Blackshear, Stephanie Peace and Karla Powell all recorded RBIs.The rest of the game proved to be a breeze for Healy’s squad, as the Badgers offense scored one run in the second inning and four in the third to compliment starting pitcher Darrah’s (18-7) dominant work on the mound. The former Big Ten Pitcher of the Week made it look easy from the rubber, giving up just two hits while striking out three and walking none in five innings of work.“I go in just thinking I have to do my best, regardless of who it is,” Darrah said. “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. My team’s right behind me hitting, so that really helps. It’s always nice to have that support.”In the second game of the series – the second game of a Saturday doubleheader – it was more or less the same story, as Wisconsin mercy-ruled Penn State in five innings in an 8-0 win. The Badgers used a six-run inning in the fourth to help seal a solid five-inning, two-hit effort from sophomore Amanda Najdek (5-1) on the mound.Wisconsin put the finishing touches on the game during the bottom of the fifth inning, as Mary Massei’s two-out, bases-loaded hit scored Stephanie Peace to run-rule Penn State.In game two, the top of the order boosted the Badgers offensively, as Massei went 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs while Grimm contributed a 2-for-3 performance of her own. Penn State was never able to find an answer against the No. 1 and No. 2 hitters in the Badger lineup throughout the three-game series, as Massei and Grimm combined to go 8-for-15 at the plate, scoring seven runs and driving in six.“I think we all have a common goal of just getting it done,” Massei said. “Every play of the game we’re zoned in and trying to get it done. It just shows how much hard work pulls through. We’re working hard everyday with that goal to get to the NCAA (tournament).”In the first game of the series Saturday, the Badgers set the tone early with three runs in the first inning. Wisconsin scored on RBIs from Blackshear, Marissa Mersch and Michelle Mueller, as the Badgers held on to win 4-1.Darrah was dominant as usual on the mound, as the Badgers’ ace allowed eight hits scattered over seven innings of work. The only run that the sophomore pitcher would allow would be a long-ball to Penn State’s Cassidy Bell, who went 3-for-4 in the game against the Badgers’ righty.The win in game one of the doubleheader Saturday also marked a historic feat. With the 4-1 victory, the Badgers became the fastest team in program history to amass 25 wins.“They’re getting it together,” Healy said. “I really think it’s all the hard work they’ve put in and [assistant coach Randy] Schneider’s work with them offensively. Those are huge games, and I think it takes the pressure off of everybody when you put runs together.”Wisconsin has now won 13 of its last 14 games, while Penn State had won six of its last seven coming into the weekend series with the Badgers.
Meanwhile Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will name his side just before two o’clock today for the final World cup warm up match with England at Twickenham.A near full strength starting fifteen is expected to start on Saturday. The former Ireland and Lions second row says he’s leaving to get more game.The two time European cup winner was contracted until the end of this season but has been allowed to leave early by Munster and the IRFU.Tipperarys Alan Quinlan outlines what makes his former teammate so good.