USC Football: Early Season in Review – Defense


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

Through four games this season the USC defense was as dominant as they’ve been in many years, shutting down every type of offense they faced. They wrecked havoc on Norm Chow’s Hawaii, then held Washington State to three offensive points in a losing effort and contained Andre Williams of Boston College and Chuckie Keeton of Utah State in consecutive weeks. Unfortunately, it was the defensive break downs against Arizona State in week five that gave up 62 points, led to a second loss on the season and prompted Lane Kiffin’s firing. Going forward, the question will be which performances reveal the true Trojan defense – the first four or the fifth?

Best Moment:

Josh Shaw’s interception return for a touchdown against Hawaii could arguably take this crown, but Breslin’s third and short shoestring sack of Chuckie Keeton came against a more difficult foe in a more key moment. It was also representative of USC’s third down defense for the entirety of the Utah State game.

Worst Moment:

Taylor Kelly’s 74-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Foster isn’t just the worst single moment, it’s an encapsulation of everything that went wrong for the defense against Arizona State. Kelly faced zero pressure and Foster was as wide open as he could be.

Most Valuable Player: The Entire Defensive Line

It’s a bit of a cop out, but there’s no getting around the impact of the defensive line as a whole. From hybrids Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard to full down-lineman like Leonard Williams and George Uko, the line has been the key to USC’s defensive success thus far (which was most apparent against ASU when they had their worst game as a unit). Breslin has continued to be a sack machine while Kennard has proven his value as both a pass rusher and pass defender. Williams and Uko have plugged holes while also terrorizing quarterbacks.

Biggest Area for Improvement: Corner

Part of that improvement is tied to health, as cornerback was USC’s thinnest position coming out of fall camp and has been further thinned by a number of injuries. Where USC has been vulnerable on defense this season, it’s usually in giving up the pass, especially the big pass. As Pendergast’s new defensive system puts extra pressure on the corners in man-to-man coverage, improvement in those ranks will shore up a host of defensive question marks.


Total Defense………………..National – 19 | Conference – 2

Rushing Defense…………….National – 15 | Conference – 2

Passing Defense……………National – 43 | Conference – 7

Scoring Defense…………….National – 42 | Conference – 7

3rd Down Defense…………National – 26 | Conference – 6

Red Zone Defense………….National – 35 | Conference – 4

Turnovers……………………National – 48 | Conference – 6