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Defensively Speaking: Notre Dame review

by Kevin Bruce

Coach Helton said to the team last night, “I’m proud of you. We came back.” That’s ironic as I was thinking the same thing as I reflected upon that game in South Bend. For the second week in a row we were the second best defense on the field while still giving our best defensive effort of this weird, bizarre season. I’ll get to the whys and wherefores in a moment but just let that sink in a little bit. Every opponent we play knows the formula by now: attack the LOS, bring in the safeties, throw a strike to the open receivers (TE or WR), and collapse the edge for RB or read option QB. Boom…there it is. We came back and played tough until the two turnovers in Q4. Look I’m not putting lipstick on a pig here…we lost on national TV in an entertaining but still losing effort. We are Trojans and we expect to win…always. However when you factor in the last few days, weeks and years and still see Trojan football getting played with the intensity that we can build upon. And right now we have to build this team back up; player by player, position by position, play by play, practice by practice, coach by coach and recruit by recruit.

A lot of these players found out a lot about themselves. There not as good a team as they thought they were before the season started, AJ isn’t always the fastest guy on the field, one-on-one coverage is a lot more effective when we pressure the QB, it really pays off to win the LOS battle. They also found out that they battle until the last second, if blocked get off the block, hit somebody legally and something good will happen…Kessler said it well, “But we kept fighting until the ends.” That is good learning and will pay off.

The Wilcox scheme was again intact for this game but with an even stronger reliance upon man-up CB coverage mixed with man-back on the offside. 3-4 Hybrid with a rush end with about 2 three man rushes, 40% 4 man and remainder were 5 or more rushers via blitz. No twists that I saw at all so I’m pretty convinced Wilcox hates twists. We did slant some but situations seemed to not allow Wilcox to favor the slants either.

Here’s what I know, if you’re outgunned upfront you have to take some chances. In the box I see a combination of an even set 4-3 with true down linemen and remove the rush end in this situation as the current two point stance rush ends are unproductive. They never draw the need for special blocking schemes and on a very large slow OT is assigned to take care of business and they do…routinely. SO change the setup that’s not working. We have added the ILB middle blitzes to our repertoire which is nice and has worked some. Hats off to Dawson as he showed perfect blitz rush technique on one play. He snapped the centers arms down (can’t hold him) and over the top swim move and he’s in Kizer’s face. Excellent and text book. This came right after he got run over by the QB Kizer on an option play. You follow up a bad play with a good play (fundamental I know but we need to see more of that). The blitz call also allowed us to make something happen versus sitting back and get road graded by ND’s O-line. I didn’t have time to breakdown the blitz types and tendency but generally from my perspective our blitzes are getting too predictable as well which is another by-product of an unproductive front four.

As for disruptive plays we had some and one really excellent takeaway. We had seven TFL’s for -33 yards which second best after the ASU game. ND’s 3rd/4th down conversion was 5/12 which is slightly better than season average. Frankly take away the 4th quarter drives of 90 yards and 91 yards and this is a different game but can’t do that and that 4th quarter is telling as we got manhandled on those two crucial drives. Wilcox needs a 4th quarter game plan and he needs it fast to shore up a DL that can’t hang with the big boys.

I have to digress a bit and put something out there for you. We have a great Trojan down. Make no mistake Pat Haden is a great Trojan and has brought his best to this University, the Trojan family and hundreds of USC student athletes. I know it’s easy to take shots at Pat regarding a number of things. But when he went down and down hard that was my team mate, my quarterback, my captain on the turf in a very hostile ND stadium. No way we leave it like that. He needs to be built up too. And a Pat Haden on his “A” game is good for us no matter what his role. WeAreSC.com friends, Pat was the QB and leader for the single most incredible comeback ass stomping in-your-face victory over ND in the history of USC football…period. More of that and less of last night’s “if only”.

I love this team, weaknesses and all and I know you folks do too. So other than an outstanding and physical Utah football team, now what? As AJ said, “Same thing we always do-Fight On!”

Kevin Bruce played linebacker for USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the FWAA.

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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