USC Football: Defense Rising Up the National Ranks

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

While the talk of the town revolves around the Trojans play-action passing game finally coming to fruition Saturday, the USC defense continues to chug along with yet another fantastic performance.

The USC defense is steadily emerging into one of the best units across the NCAA landscape, racking up accolades in nearly every defensive category. Opponents have only scored a mere 30 points this season, eight of which were aided by the USC offense with a pick-six against WSU and a safety versus Hawaii.

Converted linebacker Dion Bailey has shown new-found life amongst the Trojans physical secondary laying the wood on two bone-crushing hits right near the Eagles sideline. Sending the rather profound message right from the start that defense did not come sluggish to the early 12-P.M. kick-off time.

Right from the start Clancy Pendergast "52" defense has been fantastic in their base look, drawing up tremendous pressure through the a-gap slot. The Trojans have amassed 12 sacks through the first three games (2nd in the nation) along with 28 tackles for loss (6th nationally) shifting the line of scrimmage.

On Saturday, the Eagles didn't pose a serious scoring threat until Tyler Rouse's 29-yard touchdown run with 10:40 left. Besides that breakout run, the Eagles rushing attack was stifled from the start, shutting down Andre Williams to only 38 yards rushing on 17 hard-hitting carries for minimal impact.

Although only racking in one sack by Quninton Powell in the fourth quarter, USC still found ways to make life miserable for the Eagles by playing ahead of the down and distance situation. All of which are factors that have propelled USC to not allow points in the first or third quarters of games this season.

Following another outstanding performance from their defense yielding only 101 yards (50 yards below BC’s rushing average) USC is giving up 1.38 yards per carry on first down. Pitting teams in second and long situations has proven to be rather successful as yield only 3.15 yards on second down, and -0.64 yards on third down rushes from ground and pound attacks.

Granted, the Trojans have only faced one rush-heavy attack in Boston College, but fans should not underestimate the importance of being second in the nation in rushing yards per game, allowing a mere 43.7 YPG. This after getting dominated on the ground last season playing under Monte Kiffin's historically "cover-two scheme" finishing up last season as the 60th-ranked defense overall.

A majority of this transformation has come from an infusion of talent, combined with a scheme best fit to utilize their individual strengths. The defensive line is loaded with potential All-Pac-12 talents in the front seven, highlighted by Morgan Breslin's return to the lineup along with sophomore Leonard Williams, who is dominating opposing centers each and every week.

When the Trojans are slotted in their traditional "52 look" in pass-heavy situations, the defense can fly to the football thanks to a bevy of depth at the safety position. Showing the capability to translate into heavy-set corner, Josh Shaw and Demetrius Wright are physical secondary players who have shined in increase roles due to injuries to Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour in the secondary.

Not only are the Trojans flying to the ball, they can also get teams off the football field. Through three games this season, USC is allowing opponents to convert only 28-percent of their third down attempts (18th overall), as yet another example of why this defense continues to punish their foes.

Facing the likes of Connor Halliday, Chase Rettig and Taylor Graham, the Trojans back-four rank sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, a stat compiled by the NCAA which factors completion percentage, interceptions forced and opponent passing yards and touchdowns.

Unfolding in front of players and coaches eye’s since the early portion of Spring Football,talent on defense has translated into a dominant display of strength and physicality during Fall Camp.

Thanks to a better functioning system, that preaches all-out blitzing schemes and numerous sub-packages to cause confusion, the USC’s defense has shined through three games this season.

The Trojans have also showcased better tackling in space, with three-year starters in Lamar Dawson and captain Hayes Pullard roaming the middle of the defense. Vastly improving upon a weaker facet of their game that teams like Oregon and UCLA picked apart for 60 minutes when they met last season.

Next up on the schedule, a much more formidable challenge in the Utah State Aggies comes to town looking for the upset. After scoring 70 points over the weekend against Weber State and nearly upsetting Utah on the road, the Aggies have shown an ability to move the football with ease largely thanks to the one-man band in QB Chuckie Keeton.

In spite of the formidable task, the USC defense has not shown any reason to back down on Saturday at the Coliseum. If anything, the defensive line will embrace the Keeton effect personally by raising their sack totals along with racking up critical tackles for loss, closing the gap towards victory.

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