USC Defense Steals The Show In Spring Game

Steve Dykes

Even with top returners like Leonard Williams and Josh Shaw out, the USC defense has shown that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with next fall.

The annual spring game is now in the books and while many were looking forward to head coach Steve Sarkisian and his offense finally showcasing their new up-tempo system, it was USC's defense that showed up to really make a statement on Saturday at the Coliseum.

The game's shenanigans, resulted in the defense prevailing, 16-15, on an afternoon in  which the defense earned points three-and-outs, fourth down stops and other defensive stops against all three quarterbacks.

The defensive unit not only took home the victory, but did so in a dominant fashion not letting the team's offense into the red zone once.

They really gave the offense problems in the red zone and were forced to settle for four Andre Heidari field goals.

Hayes Pullard really set the tone early on by halting the offense's opening drive on third-and-goal with a tackle for loss.

The defense put pressure on the Trojans' quarterbacks all game as well, coming up with five total sacks on the day.

The game's top performers on defense included:

OLB Scott Starr: Game-High 6 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, one sack

OLB's J.R Tavai, Jabari Ruffin, ILB Nick Schlossberg : 5 tackles

DT Claude Pelon: 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks

CB Ryan Dilard: 2 pass deflections

Early on, this defense, under the direction of new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, is showing us that they could very well be one of the top ranked defenses in the nation in 2014. And this is without All-American defensive end Leonard Williams and cornerback Josh Shaw, who have been sidelined this spring due to injury.

Like the offense, the defense is also in a transition period, switching from the "52 hybrid" scheme over to the 3-4, though it looks like the defense is adjusting much quicker. We saw that on full display during the Spring Game when the free-flowing linebackers creating excellent penetration into the backfield, drastically slowing down USC's high-powered rushing attack.

They have been bringing a level of intensity and energy all spring long and is largely part to their "two-deep" depth at every position, which Sarkisian mentioned in practice. This has allowed them to perform at the high level in which they are at right now, and the emerging presence of guys like Claude Pelon and Kenny Bigelow up the middle give USC added depth at the defensive line-even while Leonard Williams continues to recover from his slightly torn labrum injury.

Former defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 shaped the Trojans into the Pac-12's top defensive unit last season, but with the unit returning eight starters from last season, they have even high aspirations to become the nation's top ranked defense in 2014. At the least compete with Stanford and ASU for top unit in the conference.

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