Turnovers Are USC’s Calling Card

USC’s defense has overachieved, but is it sustainable?

The Trojans are first nationally in turnover margin with an 8-0 mark and third in sacks (4.5 per game), but that doesn’t disguise areas where the defense still needs to improve

Adam Grosbard (OC Register)  —  LOS ANGELES — Entering the season, USC’s defense was the prevailing question for the team in Lincoln Riley’s first season. Everyone knew the offense was going to score plenty of points, but would a patchwork defense be able to hold up its end of the bargain?

Through two games, we’ve seen the beginnings of an answer, and it’s allowed the 2-0 Trojans to ascend to No. 7 in the latest AP poll.

USC is first nationally in turnover margin with an 8-0 mark. The Trojans are third nationally in sacks with 4.5 per game and fifth in tackles for loss at 10 per game.

These are the types of categories that coaches, especially USC defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, focus on to determine how successful a defense is. But while this performance has been a pleasant surprise, it doesn’t disguise areas where this unit still needs to improve.

“I’ve caught myself talking to Coach Riley in particular, saying, ‘To our standard – ok, what is our standard?’” Grinch wondered out loud after practice Wednesday. “We’re trying to establish that. The brand of USC determines by and large what that standard is and it’s a lot higher than what we’ve done so far. So you attack that.”

The area of greatest concern for USC is how opponents have been able to move the ball. The Trojans are allowing 360.5 yards per game, 72nd nationally in the statistic. That drops to 106th when you only look at rushing yards allowed per contest.

This is an area where Grinch is still looking for answers. He and his staff consider whether mistakes are mental errors or missed assignments or miscommunications on the field.

“It’s unacceptable, it’s not good enough and we know that. It’s something that we continue to evaluate,” he said. “It leads to points which in the end puts us in a situation where the offense needs to score more.”

Where USC takes some degree of comfort is that it only allows 21 points per game.

“The thing is, yards don’t mean points,” linebacker Shane Lee said. “Our goal is definitely to eliminate the yards that they get, but they’re not scoring. We gotta pride ourselves on not breaking.”

One reason for this has been USC’s propensity for turnovers, especially in the red zone. There was Calen Bullock’s interception at the 8-yard line against Rice, Mekhi Blackmon’s (6) end zone interception against Stanford and Max Williams’ forced fumble against the Cardinal.

Some of those turnovers have been a product of luck; tipped passes by receivers that landed in defensive backs’ hands. This raises the question of whether this current level of production is sustainable for the USC defense.

“We take the approach that the ball has no idea it’s supposed to go from the quarterback to the receiver,” Grinch said. “So the messaging is 100% we control it, 100% of the time.”

When asked directly if he thought USC could continue with this level of forced turnovers, “Tell me why we can’t. You gotta think that way. You’re not a passive member of the game of football, you’re an active member. So we choose to have that approach, that it’s controllable.”

ocregister.com

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volunteerTrojan
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volunteerTrojan(@volunteertrojan)
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September 15, 2022 5:16 pm

The turnover well is one that will inevitably run dry. The Defense must get much better at 3 and outs. They’re giving up way too many yards, which will translate into points as soon as we hit a turnover dry spell.

Steveg
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Steveg(@steveg)
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September 15, 2022 5:37 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I think I, like you, enjoy seeing the defense score off of turnovers. It takes the wind out of the other teams sails so quickly.

volunteerTrojan
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volunteerTrojan(@volunteertrojan)
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September 15, 2022 11:30 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

How about either Nov 5th or 11th and for one game only. And I’ll take Shane Lee on a blitz sack, scoop and score to end the drought.

Steveg
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September 15, 2022 5:35 pm

I would think these coaches USC has are considering just that. I do see hope in the D line, Tuli plays well and gets doubled every down, Benton has been a big surprise, Figueroa plays well and Solomon Byrd is stepping up big time. We just need the edge guys to really push it, Height needs to get healthy, and Foreman knows what he needs to do, now he just needs to do it. I can see Taleni coming on also. So as turnovers dissipate the run stopping should get better. If not then we lose some games because of… Read more »

Last edited 11 days ago by Steveg
Chris
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September 15, 2022 7:46 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I thought it from the very beginning, why did it ever go to trial?

TrojanRJJ
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September 15, 2022 1:35 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I am convinced that without the transfer portal, the rebuild of SC to a top 10 team would have taken a minimum of three years. The Cat left the SC roster in that bad a condition. The only position group that was well stocked when LR arrived was the OL (interestingly). Every other position need to be restocked with talent, which LR did an excellent job at every position but DL. So far, the best DL that LR brought in was Byrd from I think Wyoming. Height might work out, but he has been hurt. It is hard to imagine… Read more »

Steveg
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September 15, 2022 12:03 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Riley nails it. Better football through chemistry, team chemistry. He is taking USC to the promised land with either recruits or portal. Great interview.

RialtoTrojan
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September 15, 2022 7:59 am

The turnover ratio is a pleasant surprise for sure and the goal line defense has been top notch. If I have a complaint it would be very hard to frame, because the defense has been doing their job. Points given to Stanford by the refs should not be counted against this defense. I wonder if Riley feels the same way. The pass interference calls he characterized as textbook pass defense. I see that as his way of saying the flags were bogus. Once he’s been in the PAC 12 for a while, I think the gloves might come off.

UtahTrojan
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September 15, 2022 8:37 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Looking at his family where does he get his height?

Golden Trojan
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September 14, 2022 9:51 pm

I will say this over and over till I am proven wrong, this defense will get better and better with each game. They saw and learned a lot from Rice and Furd. They will be ready for Fresno. How do you beat a good QB, coverage and pressure. Haener will not have time to get his throws.

Last edited 11 days ago by Golden Trojan
RialtoTrojan
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September 15, 2022 7:52 am
Reply to  Golden Trojan

I think you are right GT. Look at who they practice against. USCs offense is scary good and as the saying goes, iron sharpens iron. I don’t think the coaches will allow stagnation on the defense. I expect to some juice out of some of the lemons Helton recruited. Right now they are lulling other teams into complacency by showing “ barely good enough,” but that will change with time.

Steveg
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September 15, 2022 6:40 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Every dog has his day. At least GS was not #1.