USC defense lifts Trojans to Pac-12 championship game
USC faced UCLA in a playoff atmosphere, as it was already determined that the winner would go on and play Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game. While the Trojans started slowly, their defense completely took over the game and helped them clinch a berth in next weekend’s championship game.
As with most defensive game plans, the Trojans’ success on defense started with stopping the run. Their defenders were able to put themselves in positions to make plays close to the line of scrimmage. This resulted in the fact that UCLA running backs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks averaged 1.96 yards before contact. While USC’s defense was able to control UCLA’s running game, they still left plays on the field and missed nine tackles, including one on Paul Perkins’ touchdown run.
The Trojans had to know that the job was not done once they stopped the running game as they had just put the ball in the hands of Josh Rosen, one of the best freshman quarterbacks in the nation. However, their pass rush has also stepped up and was able to keep Rosen under pressure all day long. The young quarterback was under pressure on 46.3 percent of his dropbacks and could not know where the pressure would come from due to the numerous creative stunts the Trojans used along the defensive line.
With the help of the pass rush, USC’s secondary was able to play aggressive man coverage against UCLA’s wide receivers, who struggled to separate as quickly as Rosen would have wanted them to. In addition to the two interceptions, USC defenders knocked away nine passes of Rosen, which is an exceptionally high number.
USC will need a similar stout defensive performance to have a chance against Stanford next week and this is certainly easier said than done. Stopping the run will be a lot more difficult against the Cardinal who own the highest overall run block grade in the Power-5 conferences. The offensive line, anchored by guard Joshua Garnett, is able to create large gaps, which is shown by the fact that star running back Christian McCaffrey averages 3.4 yards before contact behind the unit. In order to slow down the Stanford rushing attack, the USC defense does not only need to get in good position, but also make those plays as decreasing the amount of tackles missed will be vital to the Trojans’ chances of an upset.