Can USC Fix Its Defense Before Losing?

The Trojans’ ‘bend but don’t break’ unit will be tested hard by Oregon State  —  which has scored a TD on 12 of its 14 red-zone trips and is averaging 45.7 ppg

Adam Grosbard (OC Register —  LOS ANGELES — Even as USC had just finished off a resounding victory over Fresno State, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch appeared preoccupied.

Grinch’s brain always seems to be racing, as evidenced by the rapidity with which he speaks. But there was no basking after this win, even after his defense held a high-octane Fresno attack to 17 points.

Instead, there was a focus on the 421 yards allowed and the nine plays when the Bulldogs gained 15 yards or more.

“Those are unacceptable, they’re not good, they lead to points and it can put you behind the eight-ball which a lot of times it did tonight,” Grinch said in the immediate aftermath, eyes gazing above reporters’ heads. “Some of those plays, they feel like in the moment like it’s a trick play, like it’s something we haven’t seen … and I promise you that’s not the case.”

Through three games, USC’s defense has been the epitome of “bend but don’t break,” allowing 380.7 yards per game but only 19.7 points. The Trojans boast the nation’s best turnover margin and best red-zone defense of any team with 10 trips inside their own 20, which helps explain the contradictory stats.

But Grinch knows that is not sustainable, especially this coming weekend against an Oregon State team that averages 45.7 points per game and has produced a touchdown on 12 of its 14 red-zone trips.

There has not been a single culprit for USC when it comes to its defensive lapses. Instead, Grinch notes, it seems as though players have taken turns making mistakes.

But players have taken accountability, such as defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu (49) fessing up to being out of his gap on one explosive Fresno State play last weekend.

“In the moment, sometimes you just get out of it,” Tuipulotu said.

In his attempt to diagnose the issue after practice on Wednesday, Grinch hypothesized that scars of seasons past are creeping up on the USC defense.

Grinch likes to preach that if each man does his 1/11th responsibility on every play, the Trojans will be successful. But there have been times in the recent past at USC that a player just doing his individual job was not good enough. That leads to people trying to cover three gaps instead of their own.

“The expectation is we’re a single-gap defense,” Grinch said. “Take care of your gap.”

Grinch said these are issues that arise at practice, too, not only on game day. He wants the defense to become a better practice unit, or else risk the coaching staff spending too much time on corrections rather than trying to improve the unit as a whole.

“Shouldn’t the mistakes have already been corrected? Yes, in almost every instance,” Grinch said. “We coach them so you either believe in coaching or you don’t. So we gotta do a better job of coaching the guys.”

So far, those mistakes have not cost USC anything. The Trojans have been able to get opposing offenses off the field and secure wins.

The question remains, then, can USC course-correct on its own? Or is that impossible to do without some sort of on-field punishment for their mistakes, the type that Oregon State is very capable of handing out?

One way you fix it is you strain but also be very cognizant of we’ve survived some of those,” Grinch warned. “And certainly that’s not the expectation, just to survive as a defense and try to limit points.”

ocregister.com

________

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Chris
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September 23, 2022 7:54 am

Did anyone else read the ESPN article about the betting on this weeks game? It is outpacing all of the NFL games combined for week 3. Interesting read. People are certainly caring about and watching USC football again.

Last edited 3 days ago by Chris
Golden Trojan
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September 23, 2022 8:39 am
Reply to  Chris

The USC Defense made a goal line stand last week with a 48 point lead and 2 minutes left in the game. Garbage time TDs are not acceptable anymore. The defense will make another step up in their game tomorrow.

Rock2112
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September 22, 2022 9:27 pm

Here is a link to another “Coaches Caviar” video, this time breaking down the offense verses Fresno State. Another good breakdown! …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilP1zbAwRVM

Jamaica
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September 22, 2022 9:27 pm

As offenses become more imaginative, you can expect: counter plays, misdirections and traps in an assortment of Play sets requiring a defense to make necessary adjustments. As Grinch indicated, each man has his responsibility, 1-11th responsibility and needs to be disciplined to stay with it and trust his teammates to handle theirs. What LR said a month ago about feeling not every player completely trusting the coaching staff, could be a reason. After all, there are players from other programs who were coached differently before coming here and old habits can be hard to break in the heat of the… Read more »

PN4SC
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September 22, 2022 9:01 pm

This game has upset written all over it. OSU is well coached and has a real good rushing attack. Their QB Nolan is very capable. And our defense! Riley lost very few games at OU, but this sort of matches the profile of his regular season losses.
if SC squeaks out a 1 point win, we are on our way to 6-0, and I will be thrilled.

Golden Trojan
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September 22, 2022 8:55 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Do Feldman and Mandel have a deal with Vegas! Trying to move the money to OSU.

Golden Trojan
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September 23, 2022 8:50 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

I guess the money was already there with 3x the bets for OSU to cover. So they are just following the crowd. When USC gets the big road win the media will jump on the Trojan band wagon big time.

TrojanRJJ
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September 23, 2022 8:12 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

On the Athletic, 4 of the 5 writers picked OSU to cover. I think the professional media recognizes this game for what it is – a barn burner. It is an absolute shame it is stuck on the Pac 12 Network at night. This is, for certain, the most important Pac 12 game this week and one of the most important Pac12 games for the entire year. OSU has an excellent chance to win it. As with PNC, I would be thrilled with a 1 point victory. But then, I thought the Fresno State game would be closer that it… Read more »

Golden Trojan
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September 23, 2022 8:32 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

This game should go the same as last week. OSU is not that much better than Fresno. If anyone still wonders why USC is leaving the Pac12 just point to this game. The biggest game of the week and year for the conference and it doesn’t start till 7:30 at night. Ridiculous management of conference.

TrojanRJJ
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September 23, 2022 8:44 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Keeping UCLA in the Pac is fine with me. It means the SC/UCLA rivalry goes the way of the Texas/Texas A&M until Texas joins the SEC. I think it really it is really a bad decision for UCLA, but I really do not care one way or the other. The issue is who replaces UCLA. My guess would be Stanford.

Last edited 3 days ago by TrojanRJJ
TrojanRJJ
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September 23, 2022 8:42 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

I hope you are right. Last week our D played much better than I thought it could. Perhaps the same this week.

Golden Trojan
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September 22, 2022 7:57 pm

It is not a question of when the Bend Don’t Break USC Defense breaks. It is when does it not bend? That starts Saturday night in Corvallis. 😎

Last edited 4 days ago by Golden Trojan
San Diego Trojan
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September 23, 2022 8:44 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

It’s a real shame that loss prevented the Trojans from playing in the championship game because I thought they were the best team in the country at the end of the year, and would have beaten Tebow and Florida. Our defense, led by the trio of linebackers, was our last dominating one, IMO.

HOF19
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September 22, 2022 12:54 pm

Love a Head Coach that ain’t never satisfied >>>>> Jack Smith 🎙
@jacksmithpxp
#USC Head Coach Lincoln Riley said that the kickoff coverage team has been a point of emphasis since the Fresno State game.

Noted that they need to give the defense better field position.
2:29 PM · Sep 22, 2022
 

RialtoTrojan
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September 22, 2022 9:33 am

Grinch being concerned is what makes me think; finally a coach who isn’t in denial. Recent history suggests that USC defensive coaches were either in denial or clueless (or both) Orlando: “It’s not a problem and we’re not working on it” Prendergast: “How should I know, I never played football, I am just the coach from my frat team” Now we are another coach teaching individual responsibility. I remember when the goal of the defense was to hold the other team scoreless. USC is going to be playing a game in a stadium that’s hardly big enough to hold a… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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September 22, 2022 10:32 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think LR knows more about it than any of us and LR really likes him. I go with LR and if Grinch leaves, LR will find an excellent replacement. What a joy to have an elite coach.

Petero
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September 22, 2022 12:24 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I believe in LR’s plan. I’m loving “the future’s so bright I have to wear shades” feeling. What’s crazy for me is I have this frame of mind that a loss or two and the season is a bust. Which is insane given we are a yr. removed from 4-8.. Shows how fast LR is installing/reviving our culture. As for Grinch this D is very thin in spots, no recruiting classes, still it has 10 take always. With what he has, he’s coaching them up, which is refreshing. They are tackling hard. Question I have is will they recruit playoff… Read more »

Petero
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September 22, 2022 12:57 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Another USC ‘ Wild Bunch’ in the NIL era would create a buzz unlike any felt to date…Probably the first to get Truck/tractor hardhat deals.👲

I like the 4 DL’s as ‘part of’ the DL class, still we need at least 2 to be Big Ten ready to play. Curious what they can get in portal.

Believe we have a gem in LB Tackett Curtis

RialtoTrojan
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September 22, 2022 5:03 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Originally I was following the crowd and expected Grinch to be a weak link, but I think he is head and shoulders above the previous coordinators in his position. It’s taking longer to come together, but I think he’s getting results, he’s also making adjustments on the fly. Pendergast said, go tackle somebody, Orlando said go tackle somebody, Grinch says take the ball away from somebody.
I like Grinch until Riley doesn’t like Grinch.

Golden Trojan
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September 22, 2022 7:42 am

“Grinch hypothesized that scars of seasons past are creeping up on the USC defense.” “Grinch likes to preach that if each man does his 1/11th responsibility on every play, the Trojans will be successful. But there have been times in the recent past at USC that a player just doing his individual job was not good enough. That leads to people trying to cover three gaps instead of their own.”If that is the problem then I am very encouraged. That is a trust and team work issue. Not lack of talent or bad coaching issues. I remember Talanoa Hufanga having… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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September 22, 2022 9:16 am
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Golden, How true. Hufanga was amazing. He was the glue that held the Pendergast Ds together. When he left, there was no replacement like him on the team and the Ds went into the crapper. Much like the Cat’s Os. Sam was an amazing collegiate QB. I still think that he is the best QB in SC history. He make Helton look good! That was because most of the plays were ad libs that Sam turned into great plays. I make that statement based on what Sam was working with: horrific coaching, bad culture, and decent talent.

Chris
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September 22, 2022 9:41 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Sam was dealt a bad hand, but he also created his own problems. Once Juju entered NFL, he dropped down a tier. I honestly think the most talented playmaking QB we have ever had is Caleb Williams. The overall most talented is Carson Palmer. The best is Matt. When you are 1 play away from 3 National Championships, you get the nod.

TrojanRJJ
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September 22, 2022 10:29 am
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Allen, I think you nailed it. Sam was the greatest play maker, Carson was the greatest collegiate/pro QB, and Matt was the greatest field general. May Caleb join their club as the greatest playmaking/ collegiate pro, and field general combo of all time. I think the true first chapter of the Caleb Williams story will be written Saturday night in Corvallis. Oregon State is the first good team (a legitimate top 25 team with an O scheme that exploits our Ds weakness) Caleb will face as a Trojan. And, it is on the road. Utah will be the first elite… Read more »

Last edited 4 days ago by TrojanRJJ
USC1988
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September 22, 2022 3:32 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I’ll take Rodney Peete … imagine him in today’s O. He was a 2 week illness from having an epic year in 1988.

TrojanRJJ
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September 22, 2022 10:15 am
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Chris, You may be right about Caleb, but it is too early to tell. Sam was totally amazing. His first year he lost one game – his first playing Utah in SLC and then barely – one of our OL want downfield on an RPO and it cost us the winning touchdown. Sam then played in that amazing Rose Bowl against Penn St. His second year, Sam lost two – one to WSU on a Friday night game 27-30 and then got routed by ND. SC then played tOSU in a New Year’s Day Bowl and got clobbered. (I was… Read more »