by Kevin Bruce
This title is a little misleading…defense was not on display in a meaningful way last night.
What defense that was played by us was clearly ineffective… I’m being charitable right now. Frankly the great readers of this post know everything about the defense’s performance against Stanford without having to dive into the X’s and O’s. We’ve had some lively discussions in years past about how great defense wins championships. Let me say it differently…great defense allows teams to be great. We are not a great team, which on its face is a “no kidding” statement, but we haven’t been great for years and I can tie it back to when we’ve had defensive breakdowns more than any other factor, including the biggest upset (by point spread) in NCAA history. All I have to say is 41 points and you all know what game I’m talking about…or 653 yards (Kiffin’s swan song) against ASU who btw is our next opponent. Timely, no?
We are not a top tier team because we don’t play stout tough reliable defense. The breakdowns on defense are predictable and recurring. Option teams with an efficient running & throwing QB drive us nuts, physical dominant teams dominate us on the LOS and at the point of attack (POA). We lose the time of possession (TOP) battle, and I understand that with a big play offense TOP can be misleading but not in this case. Anytime a physical TOP oriented team wins this battle 39:29 minutes to our 20:31 like Stanford just did we will end up on the bad side of the final score. Why does this continue to happen?
Consider some possible reasons: 1) we don’t have enough good players on defense 2) our coaching staff lacks the ability to teach fundamentals 3) we don’t want to do what it takes to win the physical battle 4) our defensive scheme and game plan is not connected to our needs and capabilities 5) our coaches are not great and we get “not great” routinely. I believe reasons 2 thru 5 are true, but we have enough good players to mount an effective defense. So for all the USC coaches get paid, and are professional coaches, what you are doing is your best and it’s not good enough and hasn’t been for quite some time.
Focusing on the Sark era, our defense has been just plain lousy against top tier opponents. I don’t really care where Wilcox coaches from, sideline or press box, the results are the same. I have no idea what the defensive game plan was or what, if any, adjustments were made yesterday. I know that the scheme we ran is a 3-4 hybrid with zone or man on corners and Cover 2 deep with the occasional blitz 5 man rush using Su’a mostly. Designed to prevent any big plays. I saw the seeds of this scheme start to breakdown against Idaho (once I could watch the game – thanks Pac-12 Network not!). Idaho had plenty of open receivers and an ineffective throwing QB but we kept everything in front of the secondary and linebackers…a recipe for disaster against a team like Stanford. So what do we do? Yup you guessed it! That was the scheme. Brilliant – Outcome 41-31 score, 39:29 – 20:31 TOP negative, 73 plays versus our 60, 474 yards versus our 427, eight penalties versus Stanford’s five and on it goes…
So what’s next? ASU for starters at Tempe which is real recipe for disaster. A throwing and running QB with a lot of confidence in a hostile environment versus our what? What are the defining elements of our defense right now? Soft on the LOS and at the POA, play-it-safe secondary play, blockable, not taught technique properly (e.g. can’t shed blockers), not well conditioned (again) but with plenty of talent. The players deserve more than this but this coaching staff shows me nothing to instill any confidence in fundamentals, game plan, toughness or effectiveness. This is Season Two of a defensive mess. It doesn’t have to be this way, but we don’t change players. Coaches are a different story.
Kevin Bruce played linebacker at USC from 1972-75 and was a member of two national title teams. He is now a member of the Football Writer’s Association of America.