The USC Trojans head to Tucson, Arizona for their first Pac-12 matchup on Saturday. Here are the keys to containing a Wildcat team who is hungry for a home win.
1. Pressure Khalil Tate
USC led all of college football in sacks last year with 46.0. This year, they are tied for 58th with 8.0, and Porter Gustin has 4.5 of those sacks. The rest of the defensive line must step up and force pressure on the quarterback. This would cause more bad decisions by the opposing team and lead to turnovers. Last week against Washington State, USC forced two quarterback hurries and one sack (by Gustin). Against a dangerous dual-threat quarterback like Khalil Tate, giving him time and room to run is a recipe for disaster. Last year against USC, Tate ran for 161 yards and a touchdown, but USC’s constant pressure helped offset his big plays. Five sacks by six different players caused Tate to turn the ball over three times.
2. Linebackers vs. Khalil Tate
Tate will get loose sometimes no matter how well the defensive line plays. It will be up to linebackers Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr. to keep Tate from making game changing plays with his legs. Last year against Arizona, Smith was a non-factor, recording just four total tackles and two solo tackles while Houston Jr. shined with 10 total tackles which included 0.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. A big game from Smith will be needed. It was a good sign last week that Smith and Houston Jr. combined for 22 total tackles, although only two were for losses.
3. Force Turnovers
USC has forced only two turnovers this year, both fumbles. One came on the first play of the season against UNLV. The Trojans join East Carolina, North Carolina, Liberty, and Clemson as the only teams without an interception. To offset this stat, Clemson has at least recovered six fumbles unlike USC’s two. The defense as a whole has given up 27.8 points per game, which is not awful when considering the fact that the offense has struggled. If USC’s defense can force some turnovers, it would solve a whole lot of problems. It would set up shorter fields for the offense and get the defense off the field and give them more rest.