Although Saturday's game shapes to be an offensive one with a high-potent Utah state offense and a revived USC offense that put up 523 total yards against Boston College last Saturday, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and the Trojan defense needs to make sure that this game doesn't turn into exactly that.
USC tried to keep up in a shootout against Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Duck's offense last season and we all remember how that one turned out with the Ducks putting up 62 points against the Trojan defense. Similarly, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Arizona's Matt Scott all put up 35 plus point games for their respective read-option offenses. All three quarterbacks also led their teams to an average of 575 yards against the Trojans.
However, the USC defense has a new weapon in their arsenal that they didn't have against these types of offenses last year and his name is Clancy Pendergast, whom shoots pressure with his 5-2 defense that held Boston College to just 184 yards of total offense. This high-flying unit has tackled well in space, and should definitely be tested sideline to sideline by first year head coach Matt Wells.
This Saturday, Pendergast has one mission and that is to stop Aggie's star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who is thriving against opposing defenses through just three games. He has led his offense to putting up scores of 52 an 70 respectively in their last two games against Air Force and Weber State and is rolling into the Coliseum with some momentum.
Keeton, who has thrown for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns through the first three games this season, should be a good early season test for the Trojan defense that is currently ranked fourth in the nation in total defense. The Aggie's star has only been efficient this season, completing just over 78 percent of his passes and leading the team in rushing with 187 yards.
He is such a versatile an dynamic player that Lane Kiffin compares the 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior to the Seattle's Seahawks Russell Wilson. The Trojans are certainly taking notice, evening lining up two-sport athlete Connor Shaw as the scout QB in practice, to imitate Keeton's 12-1 touchdown to interception ratio along with his instinctual runs.
"You can't tackle him, he runs around and makes every throw, he doesn't seem to get rattled and he plays great in big games, " Kiffin told the Los Angeles Times. "This is a really special player."
First-year Utah State offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven also likes to spread the love throughout the entire Aggie's offense, giving all of his players touches. Eight Aggies have at least five catches to USC's four, and they also have four running backs with at least 20 carries.
The aspect of unpredictability in these read-option offenses was what really led to the USC defense's inability to get stops against these types of offenses last season under the direction of former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. With the Aggies having so many different offensive weapons in addition to Keaton, Pendergast is going to have to keep his defense on it's toes because the ball could be going anywhere on the field at any given time.
However, remember that saying "if you can't beat' em, join' em"?
This old cliche brings about the fact that like Utah State and these read-option offense, Pendergast needs to make his defense unpredictable, mainly by mixing up all the different sets in his 5-2 defense that have given opposing defenses so much trouble at the dawn of the season.
Should Pendergast continue to dial up a variety of "A-gap" blitzes and pressure that has put his team second and third in the FBS respectively for rushing defense and sacks , while disguising different types of coverages to keep the offense on it's toes as well, then the Trojans defense should be good to go on Saturday.
With the personnel on his defense to do so, the Trojans strong front seven featuring lineman Leonard Williams and George Uko in addition to linebackers Devon Kennard, Hayes Pullard, and Morgan Breslin can definitely dictate the line of scrimmage each and every play. His secondary, who ranks sixth in the nation in interceptions with six is also much improved, with true freshman Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw coming up big at at the safety position.
In the end, Pendergast makes the difference because he puts his gifted and talented defensive players in the right position to not only stop opposing offenses, but make big, explosive plays that ideally put the USC offense in the right position to score. This is also effective because it keeps the Aggie's high-potent offense off the field, where evidently, they are unable to score.