USC defense looks to rebound at home against Arizona

Caleb Williams and the USC offense are clicking, but the defense is once again falling behind. Can the Trojans get back to playing complimentary football?

LOS ANGELES – There’s the old saying that “all wins are the same.” Yet, the Trojans head back to the LA Coliseum with two wins that feel a bit more somber than most. After dominating at home for the first three games of the season, the Trojans played two games on the road that ended up being much closer than they should’ve been. After the rout on Stanford, many thought the defense had taken a turn for the better, but after this short road trip, Grinch’s crew has Trojan Nation feeling a bit of Deja Vu. Let’s talk about practice and expectations. 

Where To Spend Your Cash

There’s been no shortage of points in the latest two USC contests, and while it looked like USC was in an excellent position to cover the spread at the half, the Buffaloes crept back into the game and ended the contest with a deficit of seven points. The third time’s the charm, right? Arizona is 3-2 and looks trending up, but they play tight games. They barely beat Stanford and simultaneously narrowly lost to Washington. It’s a tough team to predict, and while they have a capable QB in Hawaiin native Jayden De Laura, he is pretty turnover-prone. The x-factor for the Wildcats is Tetairoa McMillan, a big-bodied wide-out also hailing from the Aloha State. Ultimately, I’d be foolish to think that Arizona barely puts up anything, but the Trojans have played much better on their home court, so once again, I’ll go USC to cover the 21 points they’re laying and for both teams to sail the over. 55-27 Trojans over Wildcats. 

What’s Wrong With The Defense?

Once again, it looked like USC’s defense was finding its groove, only for the tide to flip and the opposing offense to adjust and begin putting up points. In his post-practice talk with the media, Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch stressed the importance of patience with this Trojan Defense, as there are many newcomers getting high snap counts. On one hand, Coach Grinch isn’t wrong. Muhammad, Cobb, and Alexander are all transfers, and Curtis is a true freshman. On the other hand, the defense was a problem last year, so you can’t play the “we’re still getting acclimated with one another card.” If this defense lacked talent, that’d be one thing, but the Trojan defense bodes two legitimate day 2 NFL Draft prospects in Solomon Byrd and Caleb Bullock. Muhammad’s been an excellent pick-up, and Cobb looked back in form last game. There are real ballers on the defense, and this staff has to do a better job of A) putting the players in position to succeed and B) (more importantly) showing some semblance of adjustment. If USC’s defense makes it more of a game than it should be, I’ll be very concerned as the Trojans head to South Bend. The pressure is once again on for Alex Grinch.

Contrary to many of the Trojan faithful, Head Coach Lincoln Riley didn’t seem as concerned

Despite the head-scratching final scores of the past two road games, Grinch is on to something. Eight sacks against the Sun Devils were wildly impressive. The team followed the Arizona State game with three more sacks and eight tackles for a loss, coming from all levels of the defense. The Trojans are causing pressure, that’s for sure. A deeper look at the stats, and you could boil it down to maybe 3rd down inefficiency. But the 50% clip Colorado finished at on 3rd down isn’t too far off their season average? I will say eighteen 3rd-down attempts are steep. In conclusion, the pieces and ideas are there; this team just needs to do a slightly better job killing the opposing team’s drives and momentum. 

Records To Watch For

Bailey Zappe tossed 62 touchdowns in 2021, and Joe Burrow threw 60 in his famed 2019 season (we’ve shouted out Hawaii twice already, so we might as well include the fact that Colt Brennan hailed 58 scores in’ ‘06); it’ll be a fun watch to see if Caleb Williams can be the 3rd player in FBS history to go for 60 passing touchdowns in a season. Zappe did it in 14, and Burrow in 15. Right now, through 5 games, Williams has thrown 21 touchdowns. It’s critical and fair to note that Williams hasn’t played every quarter of every game. Heck, he didn’t even play the second half against Stanford. At his current pace of about four touchdowns a contest, Williams will finish the regular season with 49 touchdowns in 12 games. For context, Caleb played 14 games last year and totaled 42 scores through the air. He may need 15 like cool Joe, but if #13 gets to the national title game, a 60-piece could surely be within reach.