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Lack Of Defensive Direction And Discipline Dooms USC

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Observations from Saturday night's heartbreaker.

D.J. Foster catches a 21-yard touchdown pass in front of Gerald Bowman.
D.J. Foster catches a 21-yard touchdown pass in front of Gerald Bowman.
Shotgun Spratling/Conquest Chronicles

Well, at least it was exciting, right?

  • I’d like to first focus on the positives. A fantastic effort by the rushing offense and rushing defense, rushing for 220 yards while allowing only 31.

    Javorius Allen was just phenomenal, and had 229 total yards. USC’s MVP of the game, no doubt. Allen’s running style is so smooth and his cuts are so violent — he’s a little reminiscent of Arian Foster.

    Justin Davis had a really nice game as well, running for 67 yards with a 4.9 average. He’s a perfect change of pace back. He’s so quick and is capable of getting to the second level and taking it the distance on any given play. When Allen goes to the sideline and Davis comes in, the defense shouldn’t ever feel like they can relax.
  • On the defensive side, a lot of credit goes to the defensive line. Antwaun Woods was fantastic, and the defensive line as a whole played disciplined football and shut down ASU’s run game.
  • As good as the defensive line was, the lack of discipline of the secondary for much of the day (and especially in the fourth quarter) stands in stark contrast. On D.J. Foster's 21-yard touchdown catch to cut the lead to 27-25, it looked to me like USC was playing a Cover-2, where each safety was responsible for a deep half of the field. However, one safety appeared to bail on his assignment, leaving a receiver running wide open down the seam. A nice play call or pump fake by the quarterback maybe, but the safety has to keep his assignment.

    Then, on Cameron Smith's long touchdown reception with 2:43 remaining, Kevon Seymour just can’t go for the ball in that situation. He did, missed, and allowed the long touchdown, when instead in that situation he obviously should have been coached to make the simple tackle.

    It was a bad play by Seymour, but why was he the only player in the area? Up by nine points with around two minutes left, why isn’t USC in more of a prevent defense, or at least playing with a deep safety over the top who can help contain the big play?

    USC defensive backs appeared to be looking into the backfield all game long. There was one other play in particular where a USC defensive back bit on a pump fake and jumped up to take the receiver in the flat, leaving a wide open area of the field vacant behind him, resulting in a 29-yard gain. Good play design by ASU (where are those downfield plays from USC's offense?) but better discipline is necessary by those Trojan defensive backs.
  • That said, there were moments when USC had a good plan for Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong. They had a play or two where they put a linebacker up at the line to jam Strong, and then played bracket coverage with one defender underneath Strong and one defender over the top. Still, USC didn’t do this nearly enough -- 10 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns for Strong means bad game planning by the defense.
  • That Hail Mary, though. It looked like the USC defense had never practiced defending that before. Apparently the play call was changed right before the snap, so a good number of defenders had absolutely no idea what they were supposed to be doing. That’s always what you want to hear with the game on the line. Why were they so unprepared for that final play?
  • In terms of overall defensive philosophy, USC’s defense under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox this year has been pretty conservative. They rarely blitz, and prefer to rush four while playing seven in coverage. But if you aren’t going to blitz, you can’t allow big plays as a defense. More aggressive, blitzing defenses have the mentality that they’re going to give up some big plays, but they’re also going to make some big plays themselves. More conservative defenses that don’t make many big plays but still give up big plays are worthless, and that’s how USC played against Arizona State.
  • I have to mention the four Cody Kessler punts somewhere here. That was abysmal. If they just put Kris Albarado out of the shotgun instead of Kessler for that final 15 yard punt, USC probably wins that game. Why was Kessler punting? USC wasn’t catching anybody off guard. I just don’t get it.