The thing that I am most interested in seeing in the Trojans’ conference match-up against the Washington State Cougars is how good the defense is. Granted Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 defense made a huge splash against Hawaii in the opening game of the season, but Monte Kiffin’s defense was as impressive against the Warriors to open the season in 2012.
Let’s look at the stats.
In 2012 the Trojans’ defense racked up 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, recovered 2 fumbles, gave up 264 yards, and only allowed 10 points.
This year the Trojans’ defense provided 7 sacks, 4 interceptions, recovered 0 fumbles, gave up 231 yards, and 13 points.
Where Kiffin’s defense struggled the most is against those teams that ran a spread read-option attack that had the threat of pass and run. Think Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA. The Trojans face another of those types of offenses this week with the Cougars coming to town. So this will be the first real test in how good this defense is and can be.
The Cougars are not shy about putting the ball in the air, they did it 65 times last week against the Auburn Tigers. While they didn’t run the ball a lot last week they were successful when doing it. In total they finished with 120 yards on the ground, splitting 23 carries between four players. Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason both averaged over 7 yards per carry.
There is no doubt that their room to run was opened up by the 65 passing plays the Cougars called. While quarterback Connor Holliday wasn’t very accurate, only completing 53% of his passes and throwing 3 interceptions, he did throw for 344 yards.
Last year’s Trojans’ defense had the most trouble in the secondary and if the front 7 was unsuccessful in getting to the quarterback, it made for a long game. The corners again showed some cracks against Hawaii last week and their best corner from last year is now playing in the NFL. This is something to watch closely as the Cougars sling the ball around.
While the Cougars’ offense won’t provide the challenge that UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State will provide this year in terms of spread offense, they should provide a good measuring stick.
Tune in tonight to Fox Sports 1 at 7:30 p.m. to see the Trojans take on the Cougars in this conference opener for both teams.