What happened to USC's defensive line?

LOS ANGELES -- Monte Kiffin has a saying he likes to tell his USC defensive players before every game.

"You see a little, you see a lot," Kiffin says. "You see a lot, you see nothing."

It takes a while to process, but it makes sense. Kiffin wants his players to think on the field, but he doesn't want them to think too much. See a little -- enough to make an educated guess as to what the offense is going to do on a particular play. Don't see a lot -- that's going to make it too hard to make a snap decision and leave you chasing after an opponent.

"If you just watch your guy, your gap, you'll be fine," nose tackle George Uko said Wednesday. "You'll get everything done. If you look at everything, you'll really see nothing.

"That's how you get beat, and that's how we got beat."

USC's defense was beaten badly by Oregon on Saturday. The Trojans stopped the Ducks from scoring a touchdown only three times all day, and their defensive line struggled to make any stops at all against the Ducks' running game.

And, considering a no-sack performance a week earlier against Arizona despite Matt Scott's 50 pass attempts, USC's line has been its biggest problem in the last two losses. Ed Orgeron's four-man unit started off the season as the team's biggest surprise but has tapered off considerably.

Head coach Lane Kiffin said he expected it because of the quality of the two teams USC just faced. But he didn't know it was going to drop off to the extent it did.

Still, he said, it's possible the line will show continued improvement against Arizona State on Saturday.

"You look at two weeks ago, any time they throw the ball 50 times and we don't have a sack, we're not going to be very pleased with that," Kiffin said. "And then the numbers that we gave up. I don't know that it's not necessarily improving.

"We've got to show who we are."

Uko, a redshirt sophomore, said he didn't think USC lost "just because of the defensive line," but it was a major part of it.

"Nobody played up to their potential, starting with me," he said. "I was probably one of the better ones that could have played better."

Orgeron expressed hope before the Oregon game that his defensive linemen would show up on a big stage. They didn't, and he said he took "full responsibility" for that.

"I did not coach them up enough," he said.

But did he really think his line could play well against a team they ended up giving up 62 points too?

"What am I supposed to do?" Orgeron asked. "I'm always hopeful."

Now, he's "cautiously optimistic," he said, in much the same way he has been all season.

If his linemen don't improve this week, he probably won't feel exactly the same way after.