It is not too often that freshmen can come into a football program right away and make an impact, but for sophomore defensive end Porter Gustin, that was the case in 2015. Appearing in all 14 contests in the campaign, he started two contests, once against rival UCLA and the other against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Overall, he recorded 25 tackles, seven of those for a loss and 5.5 sacks for minus 38 yards, showing that he could be a force at the position.
Gustin started off the season with three tackles in the program’s 55-6 season-opening win against Arkansas State, all of them solo. The following week against Idaho, he registered two tackles also of the solo variety as the Trojans won by a 59-9 mark.
It was against Stanford in the third contest of the season that he began to show he could be a disruption at the defensive position. Although he tallied only one tackle, he also notched half a sack, one of the lone bright spots in the Trojans’ 41-31 loss to Stanford.
After not seeing the field against Arizona State, he returned in Week Five against Washington and put together a very nice contest, notching five solo tackles and another half a sack. However, it was not enough for USC as they were defeated by the Huskies in a 17-12 thriller. Week six against Notre Dame was a quiet but productive one for Gustin as he recorded two solo tackles and his first full sack of the season.
Gustin had another quiet performance, this time against Utah as he recorded a solo tackle, however the Trojans were anything but quiet as they rolled to a 42-24 win. After not seeing the field against California, he saw the gridiron against Arizona, notching two tackles, one solo and one assisted as well as a sack as USC defeated the Wildcats by a 38-30 margin.
Gustin had a quiet game the following week against Colorado, notching one tackle, but everybody had a hand in USC’s gritty, nail-biting 27-24 over the Buffaloes.
Coming into USC’s contest with Oregon, every player on the Trojans knew that they had to step up their game in this conference play affair. Gustin did just that, tallying four tackles (two solo and two assisted) as USC rolled over the Ducks by a 40-21 margin. Gustin’s next playing time came in the final game of the regular season against Stanford, as he totaled three tackles, assisting on one of them as USC lost to the Cardinal 41-22 in their final tune-up before bowl season.
The National Funding Holiday Bowl against Stanford proved to be a tough 23-21 loss for USC and a tough game for Gustin to boot. He tallied a solo tackle as the Trojans suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Cardinal to end what otherwise was a successful season.
Why does he need to step up in 2016? For one, the departure of Su'a Cravens leaves a major hole at the linebacker position and as a result, the entire defense will be affected. It will undoubtedly have to be a group effort by the linebacking core and the defensive ends to fill the hole, and for the latter, Gustin needs to lead the charge and should be able to do so as he has a season’s worth of experience. He is similar to Cravens in the sense that he has that playmaking type of ability.
He can rush the passer and has great instincts for the football. He can get to the edge quickly and his 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame allows him to overpower his man. This skillset will allow him to be versatile which will be a major asset for the program.
Gustin needs to make sure he does not suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump and continue his great production. He can do that by making sure he does his job. One of the things that was noticeable last year was that he did not try to do too much. He filled his role in the defensive scheme well, which is what made him such an impact player.
Even with the loss of Cravens, all signs point to the Trojans having a solid defense in 2016, and if last season was any indication, Gustin will be leading the charge.