USC limped to a 7-6 record last year in Lane Kiffin's third season with the program, and defense was to blame for the mediocre showing out of L.A.
Once 2012 came to a close the Trojans were ranked No. 69 against the run and No. 52 against the pass. The USC defense was ranked No. 60 overall to finish the year (via NCAA).
Talent was not the issue for USC.
Bad pursuit angles and a lack of effort was.
Here is a look at the defensive issues the Trojans faced against the pass and how they can be corrected.
Passing Down Breakdown
In the first set of screenshots is a look at the Trojans in the final game of the season against Georgia Tech.
USC finished the game with a 21-7 loss, and this play is a prime example of the elementary reads that were missed by this defense last fall that led to the Trojans fall.
This is the first look at the play with Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington running a naked bootleg to the left side of the field. No. 96 Wes Horton (circled in scarlet) has containment on Washington and is ready to read the play.
Also in the screenshot is Georgia Tech running back David Sims (circled in gold). He is the read for Horton, but Horton pursues the quarterback, leaving Sims wide open in the end zone.
Horton read the play wrong.
Taking a look at the second screenshot it is clear to see why the play ended in a touchdown.
Sims was wide open with no defender within five yards of him. USC defender T.J. McDonald is too late to make the play.
This was a recurring theme for the Trojans last year. This was a simple play that could have been easily stopped, but the Trojans put themselves out of position.
The second set of screenshots is a look at a passing play against Notre Dame.
USC was playing soft zone on a third and long and allowed for the Notre Dame receiver to catch the ball in front of the coverage and get past the first down marker.
There are three defenders in the area (marked with black arrows), but the deepest cover man finishes the play. USC looked lost in this zone call.
This is another example of miscommunication in the secondary and lax effort. The Trojans gave up this play on multiple occasions against the Irish in 2012.
USC has already made a move to correct the communication and scheme issues with the hiring of new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast from Cal. Pendergrast will be another NFL-type hire for the Trojans, but he has put together a lot of success on the college circuit.
The next step is fixing effort.
Run Game Woes
One of the big issues in the run defense for the Trojans last fall was over-pursuit.
The first set of screenshots is from the Notre Dame game last year. It shows the Trojans lined up to defend the run with five men in the box and a safety peeling up for extra run support.
In the second screenshot you see the safety (circled in black) over-pursue the play, and the Notre Dame running back marked by a black arrow.
By the time the safety made it back to the play it was too late as Theo Riddick shook off the arm tackles and pushed into the end zone for the game’s first score.
The defense was in a solid call to defend the play, but the safety made the wrong read and handed this score to the Notre Dame offense.
Here is a look at the Trojans against Oregon last year.
This first look shows the Trojans lined up against the Oregon spread and a Ducks receiver moving into motion. The green arrows mark the possible ball carriers that the Trojans must focus on for this play.
USC is in position to cover the play, but once the snap occurs the Trojans fall apart.
As the play progressed, Marcus Mariota faked the hand off to the motion man and read the defensive end. Mariota handed the ball to Kenjon Barner.
Barner (led by a yellow arrow) took the ball around a cluster of three defenders (circled in green) engaged by Oregon blockers, dug in his toe and cut up field. The Trojans had a defender in the gap (marked by a red arrow) but he read the play wrong and left open a lane for Barner.
Despite the breakdown and over-pursuit, this play could have been stopped before the end zone.
That is when effort comes into play.
This final screenshot shows Barner (marked by a green circle) at the five yard line breaking a tackle. You also see No. 94 Leonard Williams (marked by a pink arrow) in the bottom of the screen just a few yards away pulling up and quitting on the play.
Effort was a repeated theme for the Trojans all season. Players consistently gave up on plays and it handed opposing offenses extra yards and scores.
For USC to fix this issue they have to coach discipline in pursuit, and preach hustle.
Williams should still be running belly-flops for that effort.
If USC can fix effort in 2013 this defense will get exponentially better, and as the youth movement in L.A. continues to gain experience the pursuit issues will be a thing of the past.