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Defensively Speaking: Notre Dame

Let me start by pointing out the most obvious question there is; why did Markese Stepp not start and carry the ball 20 times or more? Notre Dame’s Tony Jones Jr. had no problem running 25 times for 176 yards. I think Stepp would relish the opportunity to shine as USC’s go-to running back.

Also, please help our defense (which still won’t practice tackling) by putting Stepp on the field, which causes our offense to open up, generate points and positive momentum. This is by far the best tonic for this defense, which refuses to tackle properly or stop 50% of ND’s combined 3rd and 4th down conversions (9 of 18). With Stepp on the field, Slovis isn’t sore and beaten up. Stepp probably is, but we likely win that game last night. I think it’s that obvious and profound. Is the coaching staff stupid or just apathetic? Clearly, they don’t know and don’t seem to care. Apparently, they are going to take what the defense gives them. Well, what did ND take from our defense? Answer; whatever they wanted despite our best efforts as evidenced by their three drives over 75 yards and three touchdowns. Ouch…

Let’s talk about our defense last night…

There is no immediately available statistic that tracks missed tackles. That happens during film review and some graduate assistant has to review each play and count. He’s very busy today. So, what stood out to me yesterday?

  • On Jones’s long run both Hufanga and EA missed obvious tackles.
  • We had no real QB sacks in the pocket.
  • Pili missed his gap assignment on Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book’s 4th quarter 3rd down conversion. Book ran past him and John Houston out of position.
  • Shout out to freshman Drake Jackson with 2.5 TFLs. I hope his knee is ok. This young man is special and loves USC and football…it shows
  • Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu got manhandled upfront, which was NDs primary running game plan. They run between the tackles well and they tend to win when they successfully do that. ND is big up front but not fast. No worries as ND doesn’t spend a great deal of time worried about what the defense gives them…they just take it.
  • As for the DL #2s, Caleb Tremblay was reasonably effective. The remaining performances ranged from mediocre to awful. Christian Rector, Connor Murphy, Nick Figueroa (who wears a jersey number I rather respect) were pretty much on roller skates going backwards most of the night.
  • Safety play was really a mixed bag but mostly ordinary. Hufanga had a nice PBU in the pocket but was pretty quiet other than missed tackles. Isaiah Pala-Mao had one good play and was generally in the proper position but he just doesn’t make an impact on the field yet.
  • Corner and nickel back play was, excellent, ordinary and awful depending upon who you isolated on. It was rare when all the secondary would be in sync on the same play especially 3rd downs. This is not a new issue but continues. This group is young and is developing challenged by the physical nature of how teams attack us.
  • Linebacker play…I cringe watching EA and Houston try to play against physical teams. Houston is a lateral player and I’ve accepted that but EA is a mystery. Frankly, I would get faster and shed a few pounds. If his knee is ok, he needs to work on driving through ball carriers or QBs.
  • Without bringing six defenders, we can’t get pressure on the QB and our pass defense suffers. We used a few Cover 8 looks with a 50% success rate. Dropping Rector into coverage doesn’t make sense to me.

Our defensive scheme was principally the same as last week against UW. We did use Cover 8 more than two weeks ago. Not my favorite coverage against a disciplined QB capable of running but it does serve useful purposes used sparingly and with speedy personnel.

I also have to mention that our special teams had some real issues…again. Velus Jones is not the effective kickoff returner we saw in week 1 against Fresno State. And I really don’t get the kickoff rotation.

So, what is the upshot here? Moral victories don’t count, so get ready for Arizona and make something positive out of this season that resembles Trojan football.

Kevin Bruce

Kevin earned his MBA and BS in Business Administration/Finance & Econometrics from the University of Southern California, where he also played four years of varsity football, serving as co-captain and playing in three Rose Bowls. Kevin’s college honors included All-American (AP-Honorable Mention), All Pac-8 Conference - Linebacker (1st) and Academic All-American, two NCAA National Championships (football), NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship recipient and Trojan Diamond Award-outstanding graduating senior. He is a member of Football Writers Association of America and is a contributor to WeAreSC.com.

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