USC football's defense wasn't perfect in its 45-17 win over Fresno State in Week 3. It still gave up 421 total yards. It still gave up 5.1 yards per carry on the ground. But, it made plays whenever it needed to. So many important plays that it held the Fresno State offense, that is no joke with star QB Jake Haener running the show, to just 17 points on the night.
The defense wasn't afraid to pull something out of their bag of tricks. Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch put Tight End Malcolm Epps in on the hands team for the Bulldogs' Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half, and he picked off the pass.
It was a notable play in a series of plays where everyone noticed that the defense was always there whenever needed. The greatest Trojan of all time in Reggie Bush had to express how proud he was with the defense Saturday night on Twitter:
How could he not have that reaction? Even on the next drive after the Epps interception, USC DE Solomon Byrd laid Haener out for a strip sack and recovery to set the Trojans up with a short field. Typical of the elite USC offense, they scored just five plays later.
There were many questions about the USC football defense coming into this week.
Many questions have arisen about whether USC football would have the defense that would be able to lead USC to victories if the offense didn't put up 50 or more points, and questions of the same sort. Another top two or three Trojan of all time in Matt Leinart even poked fun at that exact claim about this defense on Twitter:
And nobody can say that the defense performed well because Haener got knocked out of the game by Byrd on that strip sack. Not only had the defense only given up 10 points with him in the game, but they also held him to a disappointing game in his quest to get revenge on USC for not offering him in high school when he wanted that scholarship.
Haener went 10 for 18, and racked up just 117 yards in over a half of football (six drives). Fresno State backup QB Logan Fife actually even put up better numbers than Haener, completing 11 of 12 tosses for 140 yards. He didn't have a touchdown like Haener did, but also didn't have a pick like Haener did.
And is it concerning that Fife put up solid numbers in his opportunities against USC? Absolutely not. The Bulldogs scored just seven points with Fife in the game. Again, they always made clutch plays whenever the team needed them, regardless of who was the quarterback.
The Trojans sacked the quarterbacks five times--two coming from elite DL Tuli Tuipulotu, one coming from Wyoming transfer Byrd of course, one coming from fourth-year DL Stanley Ta'ufo'ou, and one more coming from veteran sixth-year DL Brandon Pili. There was also pressure from Mike Linebacker Eric Gentry in the form of a QB hurry. Byrd also had another tackle for loss in addition to his sack.
USC's defense did their jobs on third down in particular, as they only allowed three third down conversions out of 10 on the day. While there are still areas to clean up, the group proved that they have what it takes to hold a good offense to under 20 points, and to where the offense doesn't even need to score over 45 points just to get a win.
They proved that nobody can currently decide that this defense isn't good enough to beat any single opponent on the schedule right now. Will USC likely go 12-0? No, but is the defense really so bad to the point where it will surely be the only reason this team can't get back to national relevancy this year? Also, no.
Again, it's irresponsible to overreact after three wins against unranked opponents, and decide that USC is back. That being said, it's also unwise to suggest that this defense isn't capable of doing enough to win in any given week this regular season for USC football.
Nuance is key, and the defense proved on Saturday night that while they haven't yet proven to be particularly dominant, they have the potential to do enough to put this elite offense in position to win any game on this regular season slate.