USC’s offense has been so exciting lately.
Curtis “Moody” McNeal went from academic ineligibility to USC’s only current 1,000-yard rusher. Marqise Lee and Robert Woods—the high school teammates—are now arguably the best receiving duo in the nation.
Now throw in a good-looking, Heisman-caliber quarterback, and you are left counting the hours left until the season opener. And who could blame you? It’s downright thrilling.
But don’t forget about the defense now. The struggling secondary from 2010 has now turned into a group of ball-hawking fiends lead by T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey. The linebackers have real, honest depth for the first time in years.
And the defensive line has some holes to fill.
And there are new coaches with new offenses.
And the Trojans still aren’t that great against the spread offense.
No, you really can’t forget about the defense.
Despite the departures of signal-callers like Andrew Luck and Nick Foles, the Pac-12 is still a quarterback’s conference. The Pac-12 South also boasts three new coaches. This isn’t a time to relax.
The first thing USC needs to do is make sure that their defensive line is a quarterback’s worst nightmare. This also might be their biggest challenge with the recent departures of Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou.
Though they have several good options for replacements, underclassmen don’t just pick up where NFL-ready upperclassmen left off. Wes Horton and Devon Kennard will cease splitting starting duties and shore up both ends. On the inside, George Uko has shown he is ready to take over a starting spot, but the other interior spot is still up for grabs.
Though the secondary and linebacker corps are in much better shape than in the previous two years, this is no time to let their guard down. They might be facing most of the same opponents, but with coaching changes at Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA, they will be facing three new schemes.
Lastly, if the Trojans really do want to go to a national championship, they can’t just barely beat opponents. Each and every win must be convincing, which means they need to defend against the spread better.
USC is known for sticking to its guns with a pro-style offense, which means of course, they are very good at defending against it as well. But they can’t use that as an excuse anymore. It is a new time and new era in college football. If they want to win the crystal ball, they can’t let the spread get to them anymore.
Without a doubt, USC’s offensive numbers are going to be off the charts, and the electricity in the air at the Coliseum will reflect that. But when the defense steps on the field, it can’t get too comfortable, no matter how far ahead the Trojans may be at the time.
Too many times in the past two years, USC has let large margins of victories slip into nail-biters. This offseason, Lane Kiffin needs to make sure he gives a little extra attention to his defense, or else he'll be risking much more than just a touchdown or two.