USC Football: Don’t Call It Winning Ugly, USC Defense Is Beautiful


Sep 21, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) and linebacker Hayes Pullard (10) tackle Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The USC defense is a work of art. The field is their canvas. Cardinal and gold uniforms are their brushes.

Every week we are spectators to their skilled strokes past the opposing offensive line, their color-bursting hits, and their masterful shading in coverage.

So it’s a shame that, like most artists, the 2013 Trojan defense isn’t being fully appreciated in their time.

It is easier to laud a high-flying offense than an explosive defense. Sacks don’t put points on the board — if they did USC would not have a scoring problem. Big hits may raise up a cheer but they aren’t followed by a victory lap from Traveler.

The job of the defense is just as important as that of the offense, yet their results are measured on very different scales.

Would fans have booed with as much gusto if the Trojans had lost to Washington State 50-47? Would it have been more acceptable to let the Cougars trample all over the Coliseum field so long as the student section got in a work out of celebratory push ups?

Perception is the problem. So let’s put this in perspective.

This is the best defensive start for USC since 2008, which happened to be one of the great defenses of this century.

The numbers tell the story — 12th in passing efficiency defense, 11th in scoring defense, 4th in total defense and sacks, 3rd in rushing defense, 2nd in tackles for loss, 1st in red zone defense.

Sep 21, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans linebacker Morgan Breslin (91) against the Utah State Aggies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Utah State 17-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

But there’s more to it. The Trojan defense is putting up those numbers with an offense that adds to the pressure instead of relieving it, something that the 2008 defense rarely had to account for.

No point was that more apparent than in the second half against Utah State. After allowing a third quarter touchdown, the Trojans buckled down. Three of USU’s final five drives were three and out. Two of those drives ended on a QB hurry. Two others ended with a Morgan Breslin sack.

Led by Breslin, USC’s defense terrorized Chuckie Keeton and held the Aggies to 14 points, an offensive output that Utah State has been held to just twice since 2010.

Breslin may not get the accolades of a Johnny Manziel or a Marqise Lee, but anyone who watches the Trojans knows that he is a 6-2, 250-pound magician. He swims through opposing linemen with all the speed and improvisational skills of those two offensive players. He has a nose for quarterbacks like Lionel Messi has a nose for goal.

What isn’t exciting about seeing Breslin blast through an opposing blocker, change direction on a dime, and chase down the quarterback for a shoestring sack?

Touchdowns are important, but it is time for the Trojan Family to embrace the thrill of the other team not scoring instead of getting lost in the struggles of Lane Kiffin’s offense.

Many Trojans, young and old, called the 10-7 loss to Washington State the worst they’ve ever seen USC play in their lifetimes. While a case can be made for the offensive performance, USC as a team should be judged more fairly. After all, those same fans will have witnessed the 55-21 drubbing against Stanford at the Coliseum in 2009 and the 21-7 embarrassment against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Did either of those games feature the highlights that the Trojan defense has presented week after week this season?

With Su’a Cravens and Hayes Pullard laying the wood, with Dion Bailey roaming the secondary, with Morgan Breslin and company terrorizing the backfield, there are few units in college football that put on quite as great a show.

So don’t call any of USC’s wins this season ugly. Don’t call the Trojans boring. The Trojan defense is exciting. The Trojan defense is beautiful.