Grading the 2010 USC Football Season: Defense


Grade: D+

Coordinator: Ed Orgeron/Monte Kiffin (Year 1)

The following stat sums up USC’s season on defense very well. The Trojans allowed more points than any other team in school history. Opponents averaged an astounding 400 yards per game (260 through the air), and seemingly gashed the defense  with relative ease. It often bent but didn’t break, holding down the likes of Virginia, Minnesota, and Washington State. Unfortunately, the defense had a knack for surrendering points in the second half, and especially in the final minutes.

Opening night seemed like a nightmare for USC on defense. Although the Trojans won 49-36, the Warriors amassed an astounding 588 yards, 459 of which came through the air. Against Washington, the Huskies stunned USC by driving 62 yards in the final 2:34 to kick a field goal at the end. Most disheartening? The Trojans forced 4th and 12 only to allow Locker to throw a ball down the middle for a first down and keep the drive alive. None of Locker’s 24 completions for 310 yards was bigger than that one. The following week, the same story occurred. USC used an impressive drive to take the lead with 1:12 left. Although some blame can go to the clock operator for not properly starting the clock to leave Stanford with less time, the defense still allowed the Cardinal to roll into field goal range to kick it in for the win. Later, the Trojans would surrender 599 yards to the Ducks. Obviously, Oregon has an impressive offense, but there is no excuse for allowing a team to run for 311 yards.

USC’s pass defense was among one of the worst ten in the nation. The secondary struggled to cover the receivers well, and teams were able to pass for ridiculous totals. The future looks bright in the secondary, though. Nickell Robey saw significant time as a freshman and improved vastly over the course of the season. In the beginning, he was often out of position and missed several tackles. By the end, he led the team with four interceptions and had adjusted to the college game. At safety, T.J. McDonald has the potential to be one of the best in the conference next year. Toward the end of the season, he was all over the field and making plays. As a junior, he will only be better and feel more comfortable in the new system.

Despite the poor performances early on, USC improved on defense over the final five games and will look to build on the progress in the 2011 season. Despite allowing Arizona State to score 33 points, the Trojan defense came up with a crucial stop on the final series to preserve the victory. The following week, they went to Tucson and put the clamps down on Nick Foles, who was highly regarded for his passing ability. USC was embarrassed in Corvallis in  a 36-7 loss to the Beavers, but blaming the defense wouldn’t be fair. They held Oregon State to under 200 yards through the first three quarters and then caved from fatigue after the offense kept going three and out.  Against Notre Dame, the defense forced several turnovers and set up all of USC’s 16 points. The Trojans lost to their rival, but the offense was completely at fault. Without a stellar performance from the defense, the game would have been a blowout. Finally, the defense returned a fumble for a score to ignite a 28-14 victory in a must-win game over UCLA.

As for the linebackers and defensive line, neither group played particularly well. The defensive line failed to register much pressure and quarterbacks had plenty of time to play pitch and catch. On running plays, they were often knocked off of the line of scrimmage, which is why teams were able to reach the second level. The linebackers were often out of position and that created gaping holes for teams to throw in to and run through.

The yard totals and points allowed angered many Trojan fans during 2010, and rightfully so. However, there is hope that the unit will be much better in the second year of the Tampa 2 scheme. They played much better down the stretch. In the offseason, the main area to address will be how to defend spread offenses. USC fared well against pro-style attacks, but were gashed by non-conventional offenses.