During the most recent glory years for the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans (the Pete Carroll era), they would clobber teams as an offensive juggernaut that only relied on their defense to create turnovers and otherwise just slow opponents down. However, with the advent of probation, the team has found themselves to be too thin to crush other teams with their mass of skill players that would normally beat any defense with an onslaught of firepower. Those days are gone and with it any semblance of superior offensive clout. Still, there may be a new way for the once powerful Trojans to win games but it might not look good: winning ugly with maybe one of the best defenses in the country.
The Utah State Aggies came into the game last Saturday with a high-powered offense led by dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton. In the past, QBs like Keeton would often give USC fits. However, this year it’s different as the athletes on the Trojans have been given free rein to create as much havoc on opposing offenses as they can. Keeton came into the game as the Aggies leading rusher but the men of Troy held him to minus 15 yards on the ground and only 179 through the air, while defeating the Aggies 17-14.
And you can give head coach Lane Kiffin credit for having the cohones to let his father, Monte, go as defensive coordinator and bringing in Clancy Pendergast this season. Pendergast’s 5-2 hybrid attack-style defense has been let loose on opposing offenses and so far, it has proved to work great while the team waits for their own offense to sort itself out.
The offense has muddled along with a new quarterback and an offensive line that is trying to find itself. Cody Kessler has started every game this year but has been only the true starter for two games, awaiting Kiffin's decision on whether his squad was better with Kessler or Max Wittek calling the signals on the field (see related articles). To be honest, Kessler didn't win the job so much as Wittek lost it. Wittek had chances to lead the club last season when Matt Barkley went down late in the season. However, Wittek did poorly last year and then once again, had less than expected performance in spring and during training camp. Yet, Kiffin wouldn't name a starter for the first two games of the year before finally deciding on Kessler.
Hand it to Madden
Nevertheless, Kessler and the offense have looked sketchy so far in 2013 … except for a running back that a couple years ago was a linebacker. Third-stringer Tre Madden has given USC a hard-nosed running back, the likes that haven’t been seen in downtown Los Angeles since LenDale White was coupled with Reggie Bush to form ‘Thunder and Lighting’ eight seasons ago. The 6’1” 225 pound redshirt sophomore is a superb athlete who started his career with the men of Troy on the defensive side of the line. However, a wealth of linebackers coupled with an anemic running back group heading into last season forced the team to move Madden to tailback.
The Trojans had an abundance of running backs this year even though proclaimed starter Silas Redd continues to be out with an undisclosed injury and his backup D.J. Morgan remains on the sidelines as well. Still, Madden with his 114 yards per game have been a savior of sorts giving USC a decent running game – especially important since Kessler is still finding his way. It’s not pretty but it keeps the Trojans on the field long enough to give their defense some needed rest.
The defense actually is more fun to watch than the offense. Pendergast mixes his alignments up and sends players at the quarterback on a regular basis but coming from different angles. Plus, the defense's front seven has squashed opponent’s ability to run with the number three ranked rushing defense in the country. The secondary is somewhat suspect but Pendergast’s schemes have covered the defensive backfield’s vulnerabilities. Again, this isn't ideal but it works; and so far, the Trojans’ defense has kept offenses stopped as witnessed by Utah State’s Top 10 nationally ranked offense being held to just 13 first downs and 14 points.
Winning low scoring contests will likely be the norm for the time being as Kiffin tries to figure out how to relaunch a USC offense that is lackluster right now.
The Aggies may have a very good offense but the Pac-12 has many offenses that are just as good. So, there will be no letup for the Trojans defense as they head to Tempe this week to play the Arizona State Sun Devils who have a Top 10 passing offense – the Achilles Heel for the USC Trojans (a little Greek mythology for you).
Anyway, if USC comes away with a win at hot steamy Sun Devil Stadium (Arizona State is a six point favorite), it probably won’t be pretty as winning ugly will be the mantra for the Trojans in 2013.
Source: University Southern California