When the Trojans take on the Ducks this weekend, the biggest thing to pay attention to will be how well the Wall of Troy holds up against the constant assault brought on by the Ducks. As we have seen over the past three years, Oregon’s offense is fast, it’s potent, and it will sting you like a swarm of African killer bees—over and over again, with a vengeance. The only way to stop the blur is to slow it down, and the only way to do that is to have a solid defensive front seven—something that both Auburn last season and LSU earlier this year—both shared. (Oregon literally had no excuse to lose to Ohio State two years ago, so I am not even going to go there!) If USC is to compete with the quack attack, they are going to need to bring it.
This week, bringing it starts with defensive end Devon Kennard and outside linebacker Dion Bailey.
To be fair, the entire USC d-line has been balling out of control leading into this game. They put on a particularly impressive performance last week against Washington, particularly with the repeated 3-and-outs that they helped force, and the sacks that got the crowd riled up. Kennard is getting the nod this week, because in two of the past three games, he has made super clutch, momentum-swinging performances. Against Stanford, he recorded his first sack of the season by bringing down Andrew Luck with a fury, and he was at it again against U-Dub, sacking Keith Price in the endzone for a safety. Both sacks sent the crowd into a tizzy, and were what the Trojan faithful needed to get hyped. Sure, Kennard has gotten his sacks late in the season—compared to other defensive end Nick Perrywho has 7.5 thus far—but Kennard has recorded big ones, and he got them when it mattered.
All season, the coaches have decided to split reps between Kennard and Wes Horton, essentially making them co-starters. It would be foolish to say that this strategy hasn’t worked—there’s always a set of fresh legs just waiting to come off the edge and eat quarterbacks, after all—but in looking at their numbers, one could argue that Kennard has been the more productive of the two. He has 11 more tackles than Horton, and only half a sack less. Yet for whatever reason, Horton is given more 3rd-down opportunities than Kennard is. I think the coaching staff might want to re-think this decision going into Oregon, as preventing the Ducks from converting is going to be critical to keeping them from going off.
Kennard has been noted for his speed of the edge, and this will come in handy.
“We always have to try to get pressure on [Oregon QB Darron Thomas] and mess up his timing,” said Kennard after practice on Wednesday.
And he’s absolutely right, because if Thomas gets into a rhythm, then it will be lights out for the Trojans. On that same note though, Kennard says that focusing entirely on how quick the game undoubtedly will be isn’t something USC can afford to do, either.
“We can’t worry about tempo, if we let it be a factor it will hurt us,” Kennard said, “We just have to play assignment football.”
Kennard also said that he agreed that the defense has stepped up their game lately, and that if they want to compete with the Quack Attack, they will need to deliver a “peak performance”. Part of that “peak performance” means being able to keep up with the Ducks. All season, we have seen teams hang in there for the first half, and then get absolutely dismantled after that. Heck, even USC had that experience last season.
But this time around, Kennard isn’t too worried.
“I definitely feel good about our team speed, but more than that we need to tackle well, because that’s what will hurt us the most.”
Look for Kennard to boost his stats this weekend, as the Trojans will need his presence off the edge to keep the Ducks’ offense off the field.
And speaking of tackling well, that leads us to our next player to watch this weekend: Dion Bailey.
Bailey’s success this season has been well-documented here at Reign of Troy, and if he isn’t considered for Freshman All-American Honors, I am going to boycott the Pac-12 AND the NCAA! He has been one of USC’s most consistent presences behind the line, racking up a team-best 69 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. It has been noted how USC’s linebackers this year are smaller than they have been in the past, and we have seen just how useful this has been against the spread offenses that now plague the Pac-12. Bailey is quick, and his speed will definitely help in containing LaMichael James and De’Anthony Thomas, should they break through the Wall of Troy.
The biggest strength that Bailey bring with him this week isn’t his natural talent (though as a former Under Armour All American there’s plenty of that) or his amazing ability to change speed and direction at will (something that’s led to him taking more risks than the coaching staff would like). His greatest strength is when he steps on the field will be his experience at safety. As a Cover-2 safety, Bailey was held accountable for a zone that covers 80 feet, half the width of the football field. In order to be effective he was forced to develop his lateral movement, which is the key element of his amazing sideline to sideline pursuit abilities. Saturday, he’ll be responsible for one-third of the field, and with the ability to cover much more ground in a shorter period than the other linebackers, he’s the most likely to be able to prevent big runs on his side while supporting either Lamar Dawson or Chris Galippoin the middle. Without a stellar game from Bailey, the Trojans have a much taller task in front of them.
With a defensive effort anchored by Kennard and Bailey, the Trojan faithful can look forward to a competitive, well-fought game. And if they play at the optimum level, like Kennard said they all need to, than the Trojans might be riding the train to Upset City this weekend, leaving a trail of duck feathers and tears in their wake.