When the word came out on Thursday night that assistant head coach Monte Kiffin was resigning after the looming bowl game, the reality set in that the Trojans would have to find a new acting defensive coordinator for the 2013 season. Add in the fact that Signing Day is just 69 days away, and the decision is heightened and will need to be a focused, succinct process, with two main objectives hand: keeping Ed Orgeron on staff and maintaining a 4-3 defensive scheme.
Once Kiffin’s resignation hit Twitter, the buzz quickly turned to the reaction of USC’s No. 1 recruiting class. Key defensive commits Eddie Vanderdoes and Michael Hutchings were both clear that the loss of Monte Kiffin won’t play a factor in their recruitment, as long the Trojans keep Coach O and the 4-3.
Vanderdoes has made it clear throughout his recruitment that Orgeron’s status is the most important factor for the Trojans, and the calmness with Monte’s departure goes to show that.
Orgeron, who visited commits Kenny Bigelow and Khaliel Rodgers on Thursday, is the heart of the Trojans’ locker room. He’s the guy the recruits adore and the coach that players get fired up to play for, even more so than head coach Lane Kiffin, given their differences in attitude and tenacity.
Going into 2012, the Trojans’ defensive line appeared to be the unit with the most question marks, especially when Devon Kennard went down with a season-ending torn pectoral injury at the end of July. With Orgeron leading the way however, the Trojans’ front four has been the strongest unit on either side of the ball, far surpassing expectations.
USC is third nationally in sacks, led by Morgan Breslin’s Pac-12 high of 12. The biggest stat however, is that 36 of USC’s 43 sacks have come from linemen, a number that leads the nation.
The line’s ability to get a sustained pass rush has allowed the linebackers to drop back into Monte Kiffin’s cover-2 instead of blitz, and the pressure this season has been similar to great defensive lines of the past, such as Wild Bunch II in 2003, which had 38.5 sacks. Without question, the stellar play of the Trojans’ defensive line is a feather in Orgeron’s cap.
And it doesn’t stop there with Orgeron, as his stature as USC’s defensive line coach is pivotal as a recruiter, evident with his recruitment of tackles Vanderdoes and Kenny Bigelow, in addition to defensive ends Torrodney Prevot and Kylie Fitts. Without Orgeron, the vaunted class could implode much like Cal’s 2012 class did when Tosh Lupoi departed for Washinton last January, a situation the Trojans surely would like to avoid.
While it’s unclear as to whether Orgeron will be a serious candidate for the defensive coordinator job, a gig he technically already posses the financial title of, according to Scott Wolf, he’ll stay if he’s not promoted. It’s critical for the state of USC’s recruiting that that is a reality and not just hearsay.
In addition to Orgeron’s status at USC, playing a 4-3 scheme is key for the next defensive coordinator, and given both current personnel and the talent of the incoming Class of 2013, it would make little sense for the Trojans to abandon their traditional 4-3 in favor of a hybrid 3-4 scheme.
USC is stacked with a slew of young 1-gap defensive tackles, such as sophomore George Uko and true freshman Leonard Williams. Add in Vanderdoes and Bigelow, and unless the Trojans converted one or more of those to a 3-4 defensive end, it would be quite the crowd at nose tackle with Antwaun Woods if USC opted for a 3-4.
At linebacker, the Trojans just don’t have the depth to run a 3-4. Throughout the year, the main issue with the linebackers was the lack of depth in the middle, which kept a struggling Lamar Dawson in the lineup throughout the season. Michael Hutchings, Jabari Ruffin and Scott Starr will all be freshmen in 2013, but with Dion Bailey hoping for a move to safety, there would be a lack of depth, enhanced by the graduation of Tony Burnett.
An option would be to turn an end or two, such as Devon Kennard or Morgan Breslin, into a hybrid end/outside backer, but that could ultimately jeopardize their return for their senior seasons, with their NFL draft stock predicated on being an end.
The bottomline is that both the current and future Trojans adore Orgeron and the 4-3 scheme that he thrives in. Should a new coordinator install a new system and Orgeron find a greener pasture, there would be plenty of sky falling on the recruiting front, which likely keeps Lane Kiffin and Pat Haden’s hands tied to a 4-3 defensive coordinator who embraces Orgeron.