LOS ANGELES – The USC Trojans have their toughest battle so far and it’s against the no. 5 ranked Washington at the Coliseum on Saturday. After giving up 49 points in a win over Cal last weekend, the defense needs to make adjustments quickly as Huskies QB Michael Penix Jr. is ready to take the Pac-12 Conference Championship hopes away from the Trojans.
Here are three takeaways from practice:
Grinch sets the tone during practice
Big plays continue to be a major problem for the USC defense, which has been a recurring issue. On Tuesday after practice, USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was scheduled to speak during his media availability session. However, just before Grinch was set to begin, USC also made Caleb Williams available for the media, which had not happened all season long. Grinch’s media availability was cut short, and he was immediately asked about the explosive plays that the defense has given up.
“Couldn’t be more disappointed in myself,” Grinch said. “You’re constantly looking at calls. Obviously, you’re looking at personnel and all that. We gotta get it fixed, and we gotta get it fixed fast and to your point, it’s way overdue.”
USC has one of the worst defenses in the country and has given up 55 plays of 20 or more yards this season, which ranks near the bottom.
“We have to coach them through it,” Grinch said. “It’s my responsibility to get that done, and I’m not getting it done.”
Many people anticipated that USC’s defense would show improvement from the previous season. Unfortunately, the team’s defense has performed even worse. Currently, USC is giving up an average of 32.6 points per game (ranked 107th), 420.9 yards per game (ranked 105th), and 5.7 yards per play (ranked 80th). Additionally, USC has a red zone scoring percentage of 93.94% against them, which ranks 123rd in the nation.
Grinch has expressed his desire to inspire and motivate his defensive group of players during games and practices. While he appears to get frustrated and emotional on the sidelines, he understands the disconnect between what he communicates to the team during meetings and what happens on the field. He is working to bridge this gap and ensure that his team is able to perform at their best.
Caleb Williams returns to his winning ways
Williams felt great as he walked off the field in Berkeley with a 50-49 victory, which prevented his team from losing three consecutive games. Despite starting the game with a 10-0 lead, USC’s defense allowed the lead to slip away as they trailed by 11 at halftime.
In a recent conversation with The Sporting Tribune, Williams confidently discussed his team’s mentality in the second half and his own outstanding performance during that crucial period.
“We had a couple of guys speak up at halftime and it just brought a bunch of energy to the guys. The energy and vibe coming out, we understood we had to go out there and fight.”
Despite the reigning heisman winner, who was recently struggling, he remains hopeful for a chance to make it to the college football playoffs or even win another Heisman trophy. This Saturday at 7:30ET/4:30PT on ABC, Michael Penix Jr., a top contender for this year’s Heisman, will be going up against Williams at the Coliseum.
Penix has completed 203 out of 295 passes, with a 69 percent completion rate. He has thrown for 2,945 yards and 24 touchdowns while throwing only six interceptions. Penix holds the top spot in the nation for passing yards and passing yards per game (368.1). He is also ranked second in the nation in total offense (367.0), third in the nation in passing touchdowns (24), and fifth in the nation in yards per pass attempt (9.98).
Williams recently had a conversation with Lincoln Riley over the phone where they discussed plays and the possibility of shocking the world. They have already achieved a lot together, but this new endeavor would be another impressive addition to their resume. Williams is savoring his final moments with his USC team, knowing he can’t relive them.
“I’m here at USC enjoying playing ball, the thing that I love and being around these guys for however long that I’m gonna be around them, whether it’s a whole other year, or whether it’s however long we have left in the season,” Williams said. “Enjoying the moments that I have, understanding that you don’t get things like high school back. You don’t get things like college back. Something that I learned from high school, not having my senior year is enjoying the moments that you have, regardless of what year you’re in, regardless of what your situation is.”
With only three games remaining in USC’s schedule, Williams understands that his time at USC may be coming to an end. However, he believes it is still a realistic goal to reach the college football playoffs with two losses.
“Yeah, it’s a realistic goal.” said Williams after practice during his media availability.
As the end of the season approaches, Riley has certain expectations
On Saturday, Lincoln Riley was a game-time decision as he has been recovering from pneumonia. He mentioned that he had improved enough to coach, but did not expect the defense to perform so poorly. Riley understands the fact the his team just needs to play better overall and fix a few minor things in order to improve.
“We don’t need to fix 60 plays, but there are about five to ten a game that we need to fix. We need to do better because they’re self-inflicted errors, and they’re taking the pressure off of our opposition, and they’re putting it back on us to have to make up for that.” Riley said.
Riley stated after practice this week that both sides of the ball need improvement. He also mentioned that he doesn’t solely rely on analytics when making decisions during games. Riley understands the significance of the upcoming game against Washington, as a win could change the way people view his team.
“The bottom line is the team’s fighting like crazy,” Riley said. “We’ve got to play a little better, and we expect to.”
This USC football team is gearing up for a tough challenge as they prepare to face an opponent with an elite pass attack. However, their head coach, Lincoln Riley, has noticed a few key areas of improvement in their secondary defense as the season progresses. The team is working hard to fine-tune their strategies and techniques to better defend against opposing teams’ passing game. Despite the challenges they face, Riley remains optimistic and believes that his team will rise to the occasion and compete at the highest level.
The secondary of the team is facing some major challenges due to the unfortunate injury of safety Zion Branch. To add to their woes, Branch had recently started in place of the already injured Max Williams, making matters worse for the team. Last week, during the game against California, Branch suffered a serious left knee injury in the first half, which has now ruled him out for the rest of the season. This loss is a significant blow to the team as Branch had made an impressive start to the season. The team will have to work hard to fill in the gap left by Branch’s absence and find a suitable replacement to maintain their performance level.
“We’re hopeful to have him available in some capacity with Zion’s injury, but he’s not to the point today where we would say he’s for sure going to be able to participate. So hopefully he can make some progress and even if not in a full capacity, maybe be able to help us a little bit.” said Riley.
In order to limit Washington’s offense, the Trojans will have to significantly improve their performance in the secondary. So far in Pac-12 games, USC has allowed an average of 7.8 yards per pass attempt, which puts them in the 7th place in the league rankings. However, the Huskies have been very successful in their passing game, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt, which is the second-best in the conference, right behind USC. Therefore, the Trojans need to work on their coverage and defensive skills to make sure that they can contain Washington’s passing game and gain a competitive edge on Saturday.