Sep 22, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Morgan Breslin (91) sacks California Golden Bears quarterback Zach Maynoard (15) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

USC Football: This Time Last Year - Defense

Sept. 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Syracuse Orange wide receiver Marcus Sales (5) carries the ball as USC Trojans defensive end Morgan Breslin (91) and linebacker Dion Bailey (18) tackle during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

The 2012 season is now four weeks old and with no game to look forward to this weekend, now is a good time to look back and take stock of where the Trojans stand compared to last season.

This time last year the USC defense was coming off an embarrassing display against Arizona State in which they gave up 43 points in a losing effort. Before that game they’d been having a decent season, holding the Trojan’s first three opponents to an average of 16 points.

This year the Trojan D has shown improvement in just about every category. In rushing, passing, pass efficiency, and scoring defense they rank ahead of last year’s unit. Also, the 2012 defense has vastly increased their turnover margin ranking. Total defense is the lone exception where the 2011 team wins out.

Of even greater importance, the young USC defensive line isn’t just improved, they are dominant. With 14 sacks total, they rank 5th in the nation and 1st in the conference.

Defensive Ranks: Week 4

2011

(National / Conference)

2012

(National / Conference)

Rushing Defense

35th / 4th

33th / 4th

Pass Defense

71th / 5th

69th / 5th

Pass Efficiency Defense

64th / 5th

29th / 5th

Total Defense

40th / 4th

47th / 6th

Scoring Defense

50th / 4th

31th / 4th

Sacks

43th / 6th

5th / 1st

Turnover Margin

113th / 12th

42th / 5th

Last year the Trojan pass rush was led by Nick Perry, now a member of the Green Bay Packers. Perry along with with linebacker Dion Bailey led the team in sacks but both of those players ranked just 92nd nationally by week four.

Coming into this season the biggest question mark on defense was on the line. That unit needed to find replacements for veterans like Perry, on top of dealing with injuries to Devon Kennard and Wes Horton in the off season. Enter JUCO transfer Morgan Breslin and freshman Leonard Williams. Breslin is 10th in the nation in sacks while Williams sits at 21st. They rank 2nd and 5th in the Pac-12 respectively and have more than doubled the output of their predecessors through the first four games.

2011: Week 4

G

Sacks

Sack Yards

Sacks/G

Dion Bailey

4

2

6

0.5

Nick Perry

4

2

14

0.5

4

20

1

2012: Week 4

G

Sacks

Sack Yards

Sacks/G

Morgan Breslin

4

5

28

1.25

Leonard Williams

4

4

22

1

9

50

2.25

The defense has also improved in tackles for loss category. Led by DaJohn Harris and Hayes Pullard, the 2011 defense early on didn’t have a player in the national rankings for tackles behind the line of scrimmage, though Harris did rank 8th in the conference.

This season, Breslin ranks 4th in the country and leads the Pac-12 in TFL . George Uko comes in at 53rd nationally, while Leonard Williams also makes the cut at 67th. As is the case with sacks, the top two performers in 2012 nearly doubled the production of the team leaders of 2011.

2011: Week 4

G

TFL

TFL Yards

TFL/G

DaJohn Harris

4

4

10

1

Hayes Pullard

4

3.5

21

0.88

7.5

31

1.87

2012: Week 4

G

TFL

TFL Yards

TFL/G

Morgan Breslin

4

9.5

53

2.38

George Uko

4

4.5

18

1.13

14

71

3.5

Four games into last season, USC has just one interception – Torin Harris snagged that in the opener against Minnesota – so it is no wonder the Trojans ranked dead last in the conference and near last in the nation in turnover margin.

This season USC defenders have snagged eight interceptions. Dion Bailey boasts the 6th ranking nationally and is 2nd in the Pac-12 with three INTs. Jawanza Starling has two of his own, good enough for 19th in the country and 5th in the conference. TJ McDonald, Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw have one each. Pullard returned his for a touchdown.

2011: Week 4

G

INT

Yards

INT/G

Torin Harris

4

1

0

0.25

2012: Week 4

G

INT

Yards

INT/G

Dion Bailey

4

3

3

0.75

Jawanza Starling

4

2

34

0.5

TJ McDonald

4

1

0

0.25

Hayes Pullard

4

1

27

0.25

Josh Shaw

4

1

14

0.25

8

78

2

The Trojan defense has not slowed their pace from last year. This more-veteran unit, with the help of some critical newcomers, has carried its share of the load. Though they still sit middle of the road in terms of yards given up – 346 yards allowed on average compared to last season’s 366 – the performance of the D-line and the increased ability to force turnovers in the secondary has made this defense a much stiffer test for teams.

This time last year USC was 3-1, with three shaky wins and a loss to Arizona State. Today the Trojans are 3-1, fresh off a bounce-back victory over Cal. The 2011 team would go on to win seven of their next eight, including an upset win at Oregon. If not for a bowl ban they would have played in the Pac-12 Championship game and possibly would have earned a BCS Bowl bid. The 2012 team has a lot of work to do, but if we learn anything from past trends, they are capable of greatness.

 

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