USC Football: How the Idaho Defense Matches Up


USC football finishes up the early out of conference slate with the Idaho Vandals, a team that appears outmatched on defense.

RELATED: Ranking the USC Football Schedule By Threat Level

We discussed earlier this week how the Vandals are not the worst opponent USC has ever faced, but the defense as it appeared in 2014 is certainly among the most vulnerable.

For proof of that assertion, one need only look at what Ohio’s offense was able to achieve in the season opener.

The Bobcats, who were 120th out of 128 schools in FEI offensive efficiency, scored 38 points on the Vandals in Moscow, Idaho.

Senior-laden defense

If the Vandals have anything going for them it’s experience.

Six of Idaho’s starting 11 are seniors. The remaining five spots are filled out by a pair of juniors, a sophomore duo in the secondary and a single freshman.

Among those seniors is captain and defensive end Quinton Bradley, who led Idaho in sacks last season. Bradley emerged as a Sun Belt honorable mention on the defensive line in his first year as a full-time starter. He was one of just two Vandal defenders to earn a mention on the all-conference team.

The second was fellow senior Marc Millan, the linebacker who led Idaho with 102 tackles in 2014. Now a third-year starter, Millan occupies the strongside linebacker position where he tallied 14.5 tackles for loss.

Two other seniors hold starting duties at linebacker. Both Broc Westlake and Chris Edwards have six starts to their name.

Idaho’s most senior senior is Jayshawn Jordan. The 5-foot-9 cornerback has started 21 games for the Vandals and prides himself on forceful hitting.

Nov 23, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (1) catches a touchdown over Idaho Vandals cornerback Jayshawn Jordan (4) during the second half at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Nose tackle Ryan Edwards, a product of Long Beach, is not far behind Jordan with 18 starts.

Of course, all of these seniors will be playing in a new system in 2015. Idaho switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 this offseason.

The danger man

The danger man on the Vandal defense is Bradley, without a doubt.

Paul Petrino singled out Bradley as the bright spot on defense from a woeful performance against Ohio in Week 1. The senior lineman came away with two sacks and a forced fumble on the day while Petrino called out his teammates up front for not playing well enough.

Bradley was a two-star recruit out of San Antonio when he joined the Vandals in 2012. Though he played consistently in his first two seasons, 2014 was his true coming out party as he secured a starting job from start to finish.

With 52 tackles and a team-best 9.5 tackles for loss, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound pass rusher showed enough coming off the edge to earn some potential NFL looks. A strong performance against USC’s pro-prospects on the offensive line would go a long way towards improving his stock.

The Vandals will need Bradley to prove NFL-level against the Trojan defensive front if they hold any aspirations of stunning the college football world.

The graduation of Quayshawn Buckley means Bradley represents more than half of Idaho’s returning production in terms of rushing the passer.

Vulnerable to the pass

Quarterbacks loved playing Idaho last season.

The Vandals were 126th in opponent passer rating, allowing an average passer rating of 159.72.

That is nothing new though. Idaho has not been in the top 100 teams for that statistic since 2011, which is also the last time they won more than one game in a season.

Nor is that the worst of the statistical evidence of the Vandal’s subpar pass defense. Last year, Idaho was dead last in yards per attempt allowed with 9.5 yards averaged.

Simply put, the Vandals were hopeless to stop the long ball in 2014. While they ranked in the top five of teams conceding passing plays of 10 yards or more, they finished 122nd in terms of passing plays of 30 yards or more given up.

A family affair

Trojan fans will notice a familiar name at safety for Idaho. Armond Hawkins, half-brother of USC’s Chris Hawkins, is the starting free safety in Moscow.

Both started out as cornerbacks but were moved to safety. Now they will play on the same field for the first time on opposite teams.

What the stats say

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  • In terms of defensive efficiency overall in 2014, Idaho could not have been much worse. There were only two teams with worse ratings than the Vandals — Georgia State and Old Dominion. Considering Idaho’s defensive strength of schedule measure was 125th in the nation, that is pretty bad.
  • The Vandal’s were dead last nationally in explosive drives given up. Explosive drives are opposition drives which average more than ten yards per play, which in Idaho’s case was more than a quarter of the time. That may factor in to their higher ranked methodical drive score. Methodical drives are those in which the opposition ran ten or more plays in a drive. Idaho allowed such elongated drives just 14.6% of the time, a respectable 73rd in the nation.

Projected starting lineups: USC football vs. Idaho

Idaho Defense[table id=24 /]

USC Offense[table id=26 /]

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