USC Football: A bipolar defense

USC Football had a subpar defense in the 2012 season, there’s no doubt about it.

Enter Clancy Pendergast. The entire system changed and USC only maintained three full time coaches for defense.

The difference was palpable. USC improved from 61st ranked in total defense in the nation to 13th and from 7th to 1st in the Pac-12. In scoring defense, they went up from 40th to 19th in the nation and from 5th to 2nd in the Pac-12. USC played against Heisman contenders, individual award winners, and some maturing players.

How the USC defense handled them would seem to be the reverse of what logic dictates.

Part 1: Under the radar players

1. B.J. Denker

B.J. Denker is the Arizona Wildcats’ quarterback. When he was not playing USC during the 2013 season, he averaged 170 yards per game and was lucky to get one or two touchdowns through the air. He normally has trouble stringing together both a 200-yard game and a 2 touchdown game; not a spectacular quarterback by any means. At the Coliseum, he threw for 363 yards and 4 touchdowns. Both are career highs for him. Somehow, the Trojans still managed to win.

2. Tommy Rees

Tommy Rees, the Notre Dame quarterback, would probably be best described by the term “inconsistent.” He may be a better pocket passer than Denker, but he still has a lot of flaws. Most of the time, he does just enough to help the team win. Then there is the game he played against USC. In one half, he managed to throw for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sometimes he takes an entire game to rack up those kinds of numbers. Had he not been knocked out of the game by Lamar Dawson, he probably could have doubled those numbers.

3. Taylor Kelly

Taylor Kelly, the best of this bunch, is a decent dual threat quarterback. The keyword being decent. Putting up some yards and touchdowns was expected. Just like Denker, he had himself a career day against USC. He produced 430 yards of total offense and 3 touchdowns to 1 interception en route to smashing USC for a record-tying 62 points allowed. Then Lane Kiffin got fired.

Part 2: National award contenders

1. Ka’Deem Carey

Ka’Deem Carey finished tenth in Heisman voting and was a Doak Walker Award finalist. The Arizona running back finished the 2012 season with 1,929 yards and has 1,716 so far this season. He averaged 156 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game. He was expected to be a possible problem for USC— at least, more of a problem than B.J. Denker. Instead, he finished with 138 yards and no touchdowns.

2. Andre Williams

Andre Williams is currently college football’s leading rusher at 2,102 yards— before playing in his bowl game. He has a 327-yard margin overn the next closest running back. He was also a Heisman finalist that finished above Johnny Manziel in the voting. He won Boston College’s and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first Doak Walker Award.

Wait what? Boston College? Half the Trojan fans probably do not even remember that USC played against them. He averaged 172 against teams not named USC and scored a total of 17 touchdowns. Against the Trojans, he ran for his second lowest yardage of the season and lowest per carry. He rushed the ball 17 times for 38 yards coming out to an underwhelming 2.2 yards per carry. He only carried for fewer yards against Syracuse because he went out with an injury. He simply just disappeared against USC.

3. Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks tops Carey in yards— as a receiver. He is most of Oregon State’s offense with 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns receiving and 217 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing. He took home the Biletnikoff Award this season (the one Marqise Lee won last season).

The passing game between him and Sean Mannion was talked up a fair bit before the matchup against USC. The result was being held to a season low of six catches. He did manage to score the team’s only offensive touchdown, though.

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4. Derek Carr

Ah, Derek Carr. Projected first round draft pick— maybe even a top 10 pick. This Fresno State quarterback finished eighth in Heisman voting and leads the nation in passing yards and touchdowns with 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns. His 405.5 yards and 4 touchdown per game average came down a few notches against USC’s defense. He mustered up 216 yards and 2 touchdowns in a losing effort.

Baffling is the best word to describe it. The same defense that made Carr look human, made Denker look like a hero. So many players ended up having career high days against USC and did not repeat the success again. Then high-profile players face-off against the Trojans and put up pedestrian numbers in losses. If USC becomes more consistent on defense (which may be tough considering the depth), they could have a playoff caliber defense for the 2014 season.

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