The USC Trojans struggles last season were well documented and for the first time this Fall Camp, we witnessed head coach Lane Kiffin make a rare confession about the overall state of affairs.
November 17, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins wide receiver Damien Thigpen (25) is stopped by USC Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard (10) at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
“We learned our lesson last year from trying to protect ourselves so much and having that mindset, ‘Oh boy, we got through the day and nobody got hurt’,” said Lane Kiffin. “Probably not the right mindset to have.”
What Kiffin is hinting at (for those who have washed the memory out) was the lack of physicality exemplified throughout the entire season.This translated negatively with opposing teams, resulting in analysts and fans alike labeling the team as soft, or more as a finesse team with glitz and glamor but no real thunder.
Specifically against Notre Dame and Stanford last season, the Trojans were certainly overpowered from the start. Opponents rushed the ball with authority to a tune of repetitive success, powering through would-be arm tackles while dismantling a shaky offensive pass protection.
Combine that with only 75 scholarship players on the roster, the Trojans hands were forced, resulting in far-less physical and pounding drills at practice.
This time around, the Trojans have one of the most physical front sevens in the conference along with plenty of muscle on the back end to supply an imposing deterrent to opposing rushing attacks. The new 5-2 defense is supplying plenty of fireworks in practice and generating plenty of buzz from the coaching staff and the leaders on the squad.
“In practice we always go thug, but today we went alive and it was a great experience before we battle Hawaii,” said linebacker Hayes Pullard about his intimidating play on defense.
This physicality not only translates to the defensive end of the ball, but also inversely with the running backs and receivers taking the hits on offense. USC’s offensive line returns four of five starters from last season, and continue to preach excitement about pounding the rock this fall.
“It gets you ready for the game,” said Trojans tight end Jalen-Cope Fitzpatrick. “Full-speed decisions and flying around and getting to the ball. We are just gonna continue to do what we are doing, really trying to work on the run game and pass protection.”
What Kiffin and many of his players continue to harp on is the importance of taking practice more seriously, in terms of delivering punishing hits. This Fall Camp, the Trojans have held three full-padded practice and the physicality can immediately be felt from the first step on Howard Jones Field.
“We gotta get physical, we gotta play. If things happen, things happen,” admitted Kiffin following Thursday’s scrimmage. This after seeing a brief taste of the Trojans new attitude on display when the ones and twos battled it out for about thirty minutes or so at the Coliseum.
Throughout the early portion of Fall Camp, the Trojans have not been afraid to deliver some punishing hits for jaw-dropping moments. Leonard Williams, Devon Kennard and Dion Bailey have not been afraid to lower the shoulder in team 11-on-11 drills.
The formula remains simple and concise: an overpowering style of play filled with plenty of a-gap blitzing and man-to-man defense on the backend, which challenges opponents to match their assertiveness. The offense is taking note as well, flexing plenty of muscle of its own when pounding the rock. It all starts with Silas Redd and Buck Allen, two running backs who thrive on punching it up the middle.
Keep in mind, while the scrimmage showcased the Trojans’ greatest talents on both sides of the ball, it also pointed out major flaws on the other side of the coin. Every big catch, missed tackle and crushing sack confirmed the biggest excitement and nightmares heading into the opening contest.
The scrimmage was just the first of many opportunities for USC to change its reputation as a program. If the Trojans wants to return to an elite position in college football, they will need to continue preaching physicality and proper tackling during Fall Camp practices.
So far, the hits keep coming and if its any indication of how the season will shake down, the Trojan defense looks poised to be much tougher to beat, while the offense proves will not back down this season.