The USC victory over Washington confirmed something that has been building over the first half of the season, the fact that the tone of this Trojans team is being set by the defense.
It’s been a pretty unexpected development considering the firepower of the USC offense, but right now the defense has been the more consistent side of the ball and on Saturday they provided a steady hand in a tough road environment.
The first big play came from linebacker Dion Bailey – which is no surprise considering Bailey has been the biggest constant on the USC defense all year long. What made Bailey’s interception stand out was not just the early turnover but the way he reached back and grabbed the ball behind him. It was a very acrobatic play and a reminder that Bailey was once a ball-hawking safety, one who had nine interceptions as a junior in high school.
The first half also saw USC get some pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price, something that the Trojans have done well this year. USC came into the game with 17 sacks – good for seventh in the nation – and they eventually added five sacks in this game. Morgan Breslin and Leonard Williams each had 1.5 sacks and both Antwaun Woods and Wes Horton added one sack apiece.
The Huskies stayed resilient, however, despite the good USC defense, Price hit 16 straight passes at one point to help keep his team in the game. At 24-14 in the fourth quarter, the Huskies got the ball and drove near the USC goal line. A score at that point would have put the home crowd into a frenzy and made it a real ballgame but Jawanza Starling reached in on Price and stripped the ball on a run attempt, the ball bounced around and Starling eventually recovered it to prevent a score.
That was the first of three straight fourth-quarter turnovers for the Trojans which helped to put the game away; Josh Shaw added an interception and Bailey crushed Price on a run to force a fumble that was recovered by Williams. It was a physical way to finish the game as the Trojans punished Price to the end on the way to the win. It was a testament to the way this defense plays as it’s not an easy thing to come up to Seattle and get a victory. No road team had come into CenturyLink Field and come away with a W this year at either the pro or college level so the Trojans will take the win and head home with a smile on their face.
A quick check of the stat sheet for the defense shows contributions all over the board and that has been a hallmark of this defense. It’s not one or two guys making plays, it’s different guys stepping up at various times to get the job done.
It’s Shaw filling in for Torin Harris at corner and playing well enough that it’s easy to envision him staying there and stabilizing that second corner spot. It’s newcomers like Breslin and Williams continuing to impress with their ability to make an early impact. And, of course, there were the stalwarts, guys like Bailey, T.J. McDonald and Hayes Pullard all tied for the team lead in tackles with seven, which is no surprise considering they are near the top every week. So far this season it’s been a mix which has proven to work well for the Trojans defense and it’s one that helped lead to another USC win on Saturday.