USC Football News: Sark Credits Secondary for Improved Pass Rush

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If you followed any bit of USC football news last fall, you know how much the Trojans’ defense struggled at times, particularly late in games and in pass coverage.

Having recognized the faults of what was a young defense, head coach Steve Sarkisian is looking ramp up the aggression this year.

Sarkisian spoke to reporters after Saturday’s spring practice session at the Coliseum, noting the importance of the secondary in the Trojans’ improving pass rush:

"We want to be more aggressive. I’ve said this at the end of the season. I’ve said this after the season. I’ve said this coming into spring. We want to be more aggressive. We want to be able to pressure the quarterback more. We want to be able to make it more uncomfortable on quarterbacks. To do that, you have to cover really well. Our youthfulness from a year ago became valuable experience that is helping us right now. John Plattenburg, Adoree [Jackson], Leon [McQuay], Kevon [Seymour]. All those guys. The reps they got a year ago and the growing pains we had to endure a year ago are making us a better defense today, which is allowing us to do more up front and it’s making it harder on the offense."

That cyclical nature of the defense, with coverage benefiting the pass rush and collapsed pockets forcing turnovers, has given USC’s offense nightmares in spring practice and plenty of reasons to think defensive statistics will improve dramatically.

USC finished in the middle of the Pac-12 last season, averaging 2.54 sacks per game. That was a major step backwards from what Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox established at Washington, which was perhaps the nation’s best pass rush.

In 2013, the Huskies were fourth nationally in sacks, with a handful of recruited All-Americans that stayed intact through this past year, when they racked up a gaudy 52 sacks.

With Wilcox getting his players into USC, especially in a defense-centric 2015 recruiting class, the Trojans have the ability to carry out the plan that Sarkisian has set.

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It’s now just a matter of actually pairing an experienced secondary with more depth with a front seven that has been given more opportunities to rush the passer.

So far this spring, the pass rush has been one of the biggest coups for USC as a team. Scott Felix has come into his own as a rush end. And altogether, while they’ve made it difficult on senior quarterback Cody Kessler, it’s only going to improve his game as a complete passer.

Kessler prides himself in protecting the football and has been given more freedom to make plays inside and outside of the tackle box this year to take advantage of collapsing pockets, as opposed to taking sacks or throwing it away.

Overall, a USC pass rush that has more bite to it, due to strong play from the secondary, is an incredibly helpful to the Trojans moving forward. It creates turnovers, pressures opponents, and push the offense to improve under duress.