Monday, October 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Defenses

In three weeks this USC defense has shown it all. First against Washington the unit displayed the worst defensive scheming I've seen since the Colts played the Saints in the Super Bowl. Three-man rushes, base Cover 2 and no containment on the edges. Jake Locker was mauled by the tough Nebraska Black Shirts in Seattle; against the Trojans he looked every bit the part of a Heisman Trophy candidate. The only high note for the USC D was a forced fumble for a touchback. CB Shareece Wright did an excellent job popping the ball out -- and that only happened after Locker scampered down the sideline for huge yardage.

The Trojans and Huskies went back and forth, fighting over who should lose before U-Dub kicked a field goal as time expired to win 32-31 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The story of the game was how Washington constantly gashed the Trojans for 536 yards, including critical conversions on 3rd and 18 as well as 4th and 10. Supposedly Monte Kiffin was coming in and shoring up a defensive unit that was surprisingly average the past couple years. Instead the D was out on the breakers and getting gashed.

Then two weeks ago the defense let down the Trojans once again, this time losing to Standford 37-35 in an eerily similar fashion. At the end of a hard-fought battle the Men of Troy found themselves once more on the wrong side of a game-winning field goal. With a minute left the Cardinal drove across the field, aided by a reckless late hit by LB Chris Galippo and poor coverage/containment. Though Stanford's offense is quite good the USC defense was awful throughout. Safeties blew coverages, the front four didn't get penetration and the linebackers looked lost. Devon Kennard, the starting MLB because Galippo was demoted, was running around aimlessly grabbing receivers. Missed tackles and blown assignments were commonplace. Andrew Luck, an excellent QB, was given ample time and openings to complete over 70% of his passes.

It was safe to presume the USC defense would be a question mark the whole season. It's not like the D was amazing last year. Lack of depth due to injuries, sanctions and a new coaching staff would require a grace period. On Saturday, however, something clicked. Maybe Cal just had a horrific day but the Trojans defense looked especially fierce. The defensive front did a great job limiting the dangerous Bear RB Shane Vereen and pressuring QB Kevin Riley. For the first time in... a long-ass time the Trojans pressured with an array of blitz packages. Surprise, surprise it worked. The entire unit played as well as it has in years. Galippo in particular looked comfortable playing the outside linebacker. Safety TJ McDonald, who's had his share of late hits and blown coverages, snagged an impressive interception on a deep ball.

Obviously the Trojans offense, led by five TD throws by Matt Barkley, was on fire against California but the defense deserves a ton of credit as well. It's as ready as it'll ever be for the high-octane Oregon offense that's coming to town in less than two weeks.

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