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Defensively Speaking: Notre Dame review

from Kevin Bruce

The game plan for both offense and defense was to play with physicality on all match ups with aggressiveness and focus. Consider that a strong “Mission Accomplished” including the tough as nails USC Song Girl who took a strong shot from our DB and was back on her feet waving the V for Victory and holding her “Stand Up” sign in a flash (you couldn’t make that one up). Great game by the offense and a good game by the defense and specials such that a banged up Notre Dame just got steam rolled. It was a beautiful and necessary outcome for the seniors. But it’s even more important for this coaching staff to see that a well prepared team that plays physical with clear concise plans can execute with outstanding results. Turn these guys loose and just go hit somebody and I guarantee something good will happen. USC football tradition is steeped in physical first and always; all else flows from that imperative. Remember that come bowl time that we always should have aggressiveness with a clear plan.

Overall Observations:

I liked what J.R. Tavai said after the game, ”Coach Wilson had a good game plan for us. We needed to get into the quarterback’s face with a shorter quarterback and contain. We let the inside linemen force pressure up front. This was one of my better games and probably the most fun I’ve had in a game.” Yup, kicking some butt, sacking the QB 3.5 times and winning overwhelmingly is really fun…and then add in that’s it ND oh yeah that is sweet! Woods had his best game of the season by far and Williams ate up the OL. Add in Hayes jumping in and out of gaps creating blocking uncertainty and we have a nice recipe to breakdown the protection for Golson. Wilcox did a nice job game planning the pressure packages with a complex looking secondary coverage (in case you missed it that was a sincere compliment to Wilcox for a job well done).

The X’s and O’s:

The game plan was straight forward enough on defense such that the clear concise focus was

  1. Stop Golson from seeing the field & confuse him with disguised coverages
  2. Keep him uncomfortable in the pocket
  3. Pressure the run game by attacking the gaps
  4. Selectively pressure with combo blitzes and/or stunts

It’s rare as can be to see a quality opponent pull their starting QB but that was the result of the above. Pretty impressive and you knew it was really over at that point. Our 3rd/4th down stop efficiency was an excellent 60% with some of those conversions coming after it was 35-0. Hey, no excuses as defenses always play to shut out the other guy but this was not bad. We were +2 (gross & net) in turnovers with one interception (Bowman as safety) and one FR (Pullard). We forced 5 punts and limited ND to 64 plays to our 93 (second most this season after Fresno State). Get this, true freshman DB Plattenburg lead the team in tackles with 7!  But J.R. Tavai had 4.5 TFLs (including 3.5 sacks)…so tell me how much we missed him late in this season? Against UCLA he was still getting his legs under him against a tough well focused opponent (uh sorry about that Stanford score).

Earlier I noted that I thought the defense played good…they did. Some elements were not crisp which at this stage of the season just means we’re not good at it…tackling especially. We were OK and better than most of our games but we just don’t wrap folks up consistently and use pursuit to clean things up and sometimes force a fumble. Our containment is sporadic and perplexing to me. Felix gets one-on-one with an offensive tackle and it’s just tough to watch and I’m glad he hasn’t been seriously hurt. Routinely containment is lost and if Townsend is on the field I know he’ll put pressure on the QB whether he has the ball or not. Give up on containment though…forget about it. It didn’t hurt us this game but allowed for 2 first down conversions late in the game. We still are a much undisciplined team on the QB option. Honestly it is not that difficult to defend if you do your assignment then help inside out. Not picking on Felix but he bit on Zaire’s option fake/mesh point to the inside which left Zaire running free up the sideline for another first down. Look enough already with this problem…just teach these guys their assignment on option plays and if you are an OLB you have the QB unless the running back has the ball and is running at you! OLB takes QB first (fast or slow as it depends) then help inside out with pursuit if there is a pitch man. That’s it. If it is a pass option (e.g. Washington State) you rush the QB after the run fake…boom. I’m not picking the fly sh*t out of the pepper I just want to see consistent well-disciplined aggressive and physical defense.

Our secondary used a lot of “over match” zone and man away (weak side) with halves (two safeties) and thirds (three safety positions)…all when not blitzing. This confused Golson as we haven’t shown that set up much this year. We used a little bit against UCLA but with limited success (putting it mildly). Shaw blitzed once from the slot but didn’t factor in on the play.


It’s time to celebrate and respect what this team has accomplished. Look it could have been fold up the tent time several times this season. And yes we under-achieved what was very possible. Our two worst games were Boston College and UCLA and we showed up not ready to play which is a sign of a young team and new coaching staff. We need to move on and stay zeroed in on improving and winning decisively in our next bowl game. Sark said, “A couple of these defeats that we had, they’re good for us. We will be better for it. There are some valuable lessons from those games that are going to make us better in the years to come.” Well ok, then get these guys ready now because next year’s team will be even younger than this year’s edition…more on that separately and after the season is over. Fight On!

Kevin Bruce played linebacker for the Trojans from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams

Garry Paskwietz

A 1988 graduate of USC with a degree in Sports Information. Worked in sports marketing for LA Lakers and Miller Brewing Company. Began covering the Trojans in 1996 with the Trojan Football Fax. Founded WeAreSC in November 1998 with stints at Scout and ESPN. Emmy-winner while covering high school football at Fox Sports West.

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