USC vs. Cal Report Card: Grading the Trojan Defense


Saturday’s USC vs. Cal game saw the Trojans win their 12th-straight game against their Northern California rivals. How’d they do it? By putting in a solid defensive effort that stifled the Golden Bears for long stretches.

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Here’s how each defensive unit graded out against the Bears:

Standout. Delvon Simmons. DEFENSIVE LINE. C. Going into Saturday afternoon, USC’s biggest task in handling Jared Goff and the Cal offense was establishing pressure. If they didn’t get to him, they’d have risked having the NFL Draft prospect sit back and shred them. Well, the Trojans’ defensive line struggled to get pressure, as they failed to record a sack. But they did have a vaguely successful pass rush, which led to Adoree’ Jackson’s interception in the third quarter. They also were able to plug running lanes in the final three quarters to slow up Cal’s ground attack. Given how much they’ve struggled to get in the face of quarterbacks all season, it was a good performance for what USC’s defensive line is.

As expected, Cam Smith’s dominance from last week against Utah wasn’t repeated against Cal. It didn’t need to be, as the Trojans were a plus-3 in the turnover department. That was helped on the very first drive when senior linebacker Lamar Dawson forced a fumble on the third play of the game. He finished with four tackles, while Su’a Cravens led all linebackers with five. Cravens had a casual day by his standards, as he was moved into a different role against Sonny Dykes’s air raid offense. That was an adjustment that also saw limited time for the freshmen duo of Porter Gustin and Osa Masina, neither of whom registered on the stat sheet. Scott Felix played a significant amount of plays and had his moments. He was routinely in the right place at the right time, but struggled with wrapping up, leading to multiple missed tackles, including a would-be sack of Goff.. Standout. Lamar Dawson. LINEBACKER. B

A. Goff had his moments, completing 23 of 31 passes, but gained a season-low 272 passing yards as the Trojans forced a pair of interceptions. Both were pivotal in preventing the Bears from clawing their way back into the game. Adoree’ Jackson’s third quarter pick, the first of his career, was returned for a touchdown that would ultimately be the difference in the game. Goff was then intercepted two drives later by Kevon Seymour, just one play after Cravens temporarily left with an elbow injury. Overall, the Trojans contained Cal’s passing game as best as they could. High-flying Golden Bear Kenny Lawler only had three catches for 30 yards. It helped USC grab the game by the horns in the middle quarters and effectively win the game.. Standout. Adoree' Jackson. SECONDARY

Standout. Justin Wilcox. COACHING. A. Wilcox has gotten a bad rap as USC’s defensive coordinator. But if he dials up defensive performances like the Trojans’ effort in Berkeley, he’ll find himself leading the team to a steady amount of wins. The team held Goff to a season low in passing yards, contained the Cal running game to just 117 yards and allowed just one scoring drive of four minutes or more. USC controlled the game defensively to buy time for an inconsistent offense and came up with timely turnovers in the second half to snuff out potential pitfalls. It all comes back to coaching, as despite a typical lack of blitzing, Wilcox didn’t drop into a deep Cover-2 to play bend-but-don’t-break and let Cal back into the game. He also didn’t overpersue by stacking the box after the Bears had a strong first quarter on the ground. Slight adjustments were made and the Trojans were more often than not in the right place to avoid big plays, while not putting themselves out to dry.

What say you Trojan fans? Vote in the poll and let us know how you feel about the defensive performance during USC vs. Cal in the comments below.

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