Stats: 13 games played, 40 tackles (27 solo, 13 assisted), 3.0 sacks, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1 pass broken up
What stood out: Anthony Sarao had a bunch of playing time early on in the season, playing weakside linebacker in place of Hayes Pullard, as he moved inside to cover for an injured Lamar Dawson. What separated Sarao from the rest of the linebackers in 2012 was his pursuit to the football and attacking style of play. Sarao had three sacks to lead all linebackers, including a 17 yard sack of Brett Hundley against UCLA. In addition to playing linebacker, Sarao’s pursuit was seen on special teams, where along with Tony Burnett, he was one of the best defenders on the Trojans’ kickoff coverage team, as he was continually around the ball to tackles in space.
What needed work: There’s no denying that Sarao is raw, as seen when defending the pass. That’s not a bad thing, as Clay Matthews, who plays a very similar game, was much more so. If the Trojans move to a 3-4 scheme after the impending defensive coordinator hire, Sarao seems to be a be a great fit as an outside linebacker that specializes in blitz packages, a la Matthews. Until such a scheme is implemented, Sarao’s struggles playing zone defense will see him remain as a valuable member of USC’s linebacker rotation, and not a starter.
Final word: As a redshirt freshman, Anthony Sarao had the year that you would expect to see out of a promising young player without starting experience. While he wasn’t a breakout star like Dion Bailey was a year ago, he was still solid enough to supplement the rotation and his stellar play on special teams greatly added to his value.