USC’s defense was the highlight of the spring game

The Trojans' new-look team impressed with an outstanding defense led by D'Anton Lynn, but struggled to get their offense going in the spring game.

LOS ANGELES — The USC Trojans seem to be on the right track in 2024 under the guidance of their coach, Lincoln Riley. They hosted their annual Spring Game at the Coliseum, which provided a glimpse into the positive changes that have taken place since last year’s disappointing season. Riley is now in his third season as head coach, and this will be the first season without Caleb Williams.

The spring game had an interesting format where the defense began with 24 points and the offense started with zero. Miller Moss was the first to get a drive opportunity and managed to complete a first down on his opening drive. However, he had to punt away on his next attempt and then threw an interception to freshman Marcelles Williams from St. John Bosco on his second drive. While Moss looked focused and made a few good throws, Maiava might’ve outplayed him in the spring game but the defense was outstanding on Saturday afternoon.

This newly revamped defense was truly impressive as they intercepted the three quarterbacks on three consecutive drives in the first half. Maiava threw the first interception to DeCarlos Nicholson, Moss was picked off by Williams, and Jensen’s throw was intercepted by Maliki Crawford. We can clearly see the positive changes made by this defense under D’Anton Lynn. Tackling was a major weakness for them last season, but they have improved significantly this season. Even though it was just a spring game in April, the difference in this team’s performance is already visible as they prepare to compete in the Big Ten conference and bid farewell to the Pac-12.

During the first half, Maiava threw an impressive 17-yard touchdown pass to Makai Lemon. Lemon, who is entering his sophomore season from Los Alamitos High School, was a key player at the Holiday Bowl last December. Riley, is expecting Lemon to be an essential player this upcoming season. Maiava had a great connection with his group of receivers and also completed a nice catch to Duce Robinson. Maiava was 15 for 17 and collected 172 yards with his longest pass being 27-yards. All three quarterbacks looked promising, and we anticipate further improvement as they move forward towards the fall.

Riley spoke about Moss’s performance in the spring game and mentioned that going through tough times in the game is good for him. He praised Moss’s mentality, saying that he has learned from coaching him that one mistake on the field doesn’t hold him back from making plays. Riley gave an example of how Moss bounced back from throwing an interception at the Holiday Bowl by immediately following up with multiple touchdowns. Riley also stated that if the season started today, Moss would be the starter since he is the most familiar with the playbook. Moss finished the spring game with 133-yards thrown, one touchdown on 16 for 21 in the game.

After the game, Riley expressed his excitement for the upcoming season and mentioned that the team’s chemistry has been improving. He feels that this team interacts better with each other compared to the previous two seasons at USC. Riley also spoke about the defense and how it is being developed under the guidance of the new coaching staff that has recently joined USC.

“I thought the coaches and players both handled it well,” Riley said. “I mean, good defenses make things tough on offenses-good defenses pray on offensive mistakes, and they did that.”

The USC offense only received one penalty during the spring game. The offense managed to gain a total of 504 yards in the game and successfully converted all of their fourth down plays. It was interesting when Riley was asked about his plans to announce the starting quarterback and whether Moss was leading the discussion.

“I mean, he’s certainly ahead right now, there’s no question about that,” Riley said. “Now, Jayden is improving rapidly as he learns it and I think it’s going to continue to provide great competition in the room. We’re in a position right now where we don’t have to decide a starter but if we played today, it would certainly be Miller.”

Moss replied to the comments that Riley said on the current competition from the quarterbacks.

“I don’t think my mentality or approach has been based on, like Lincoln saying that i’m the starting quarterback or not,” Miller said. “My job is to lead this team and do everything I can to help us win.”

Regarding Jayden, Riley was impressed with his development on a day-to-day basis and enjoyed watching him out on the field. Maiava, who transferred from UNLV this past winter, hopes to become the starter and carries himself with the confidence of the best in the room. Riley is a big fan of Maiava’s style of play, which is precisely why he’s here today at USC.

“He’s a hard worker, and he’s a talented kid.” Riley said. “Everyday you can see the wires connecting a little bit more, and we’re excited about the room.”

The most significant observation from the game was the impressive performance of the defense. Jamil Muhammad is expected to make a significant leap in the upcoming season. Kamari Ramsey, who recently transferred from UCLA, made his USC debut in today’s game and shared his thoughts after the game.

“That’s the standard, that what we gotta do as a defense and take the ball away and create turnovers,” Ramsey said. “Get the ball back to the offense but today, it was the offense we were taking the ball away from. That’s the standard, five picks, that’s the standard.”

Ramsey discussed UCLA’s improved defense last year and compared it to this year’s USC defense.

“We just have to buy into the scheme, I think that’s the main thing. Even if the coach calls a bad play, we gotta make it right.” Ramsey said postgame.

During the second half, Prophet Brown intercepted Moss’ pass and returned it for a touchdown. Brown also explained how the defense is improving this spring and what they need to do to maintain consistency on the field.

“This spring, I feel like we had a lot of people put down their ego’s,” Brown said. “We really came together as a team even without the coaches and really bought into each other.”