USC Football: Don't Look Now but the Trojans Defense Is Back
Harry How/Getty Images
With all of the negativity surrounding USC's football program in 2013, wouldn't it be nice to find something for fans to smile about?
Of course, that "something" is coordinator Clancy Pendergast's defense, which has been a revelation so far this year.
Ranked No. 11 in the nation in total defense, Pendergast's unit has smothered this season's two opponents—Hawaii and Washington State—allowing an average of 226 yards overall.
In a season which has provided very little enjoyment for its fans, the Trojan defense has been the one thing they can take pride in.
So, expanding on the positive, let's take a look at what makes this defense so special.
And, while we do, we can forget—at least for a while—the myriad of other problems this team has.
The Trojans Are Getting to the Quarterback
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
One of the keys for USC's defense in 2013 was for the Trojans' front seven to get to the quarterback.
So far this year, they have done just that.
Ranked first in the nation in sacks, defensive end Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin lead a group that is simply relentless when it comes to pressuring opposing signal-callers.
Averaging 5.5 sacks per game, the front guys are taking care of business in 2013.
USC Spends a Lot of Time in the Opponents Backfield
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Although the Trojans lead the nation in sacks, they are by no means a one-trick pony.
In terms of overall tackles for loss, USC is ranked third in the country with 20 so far through two games.
This should come as no surprise since USC has been dominant stopping the run as we shall see in the next slide.
It Has Been Futile to Run on the Trojans
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
As good as USC has been when opponents are trying to throw the ball, they are even better when it comes to stopping the run.
In fact, there is no one better in the nation in this category than the Trojans, who are allowing an average of 15 yards per game.
That's right, 15 yards.
It's not like their opponents aren't trying to run the ball, either. In 53 attempts, USC's foes are averaging a whopping .57 yards per attempt.
It just doesn't get much better than that.
Surprisingly, USC Has Also Done Well Against the Pass
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
It should come as no surprise that when an opponent can't run the ball, they will turn to the pass to make their hay, and that is exactly what Hawaii and Washington State did against the Trojans.
However, despite the concern about USC's secondary this year, the defensive backfield has done pretty well so far in 2013.
Yes, the Trojans are only ranked No. 59 in pass defense, but they are also only allowing 5.5 yards per completion. Not bad.
USC is respectably ranked at No. 19 in the nation in team passing efficiency defense, which is a far cry from what this unit turned in last year.
More importantly, they have been opportunistic in defending the pass, which we will see in the next slide.
The Trojans Are Tied for Third in the Nation in Passes Intercepted
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Coming in to 2013, there was no unit for USC that caused more concern than their defensive secondary.
And while those worries may or may not have been justified, what is certain so far this year is that the defensive backfield has played pretty darn well through two games.
How well? How does being tied for third in the nation in interceptions grab you?
Yes, it is still early in the season, but no longer does the primary concern reside in USC's secondary. Instead, that dubious honor belongs to any number of issues attached to the offense.
Clancy Pendergast's Defense Has Been Opportunistic
George Frey/Getty Images
Clancy Pendergast's 5-2 defense has been aggressive in 2013 and it has paid off big time in the area of turnovers gained, where USC finds itself tied for third in the nation with seven turnovers in two games.
In 2013, the USC defense has done its part to put the offense in a good position. Unfortunately, they can't put the rock in the end zone for Lane Kiffin's woeful charges on that side of the ball.
Creating turnovers is the mark of a great defense. In that department, USC has more than done its job this year.
Getty Images/Getty Images
There are two other statistics which should be of interest to Trojan fans when it comes to their defense in 2013.
First, USC is ranked No. 19 in scoring defense. However, if you subtract Cody Kessler's unfortunate pick-six at the end of the first half of the Washington State game, they would be tied with Baylor as the No. 8 stingiest defense in the nation.
Also, curiously, the Trojans are nowhere to be found when it comes to red-zone defense. A deeper peek reveals that it is hard to be on this list when you have not allowed scoring opportunities in that part of the field.
When taken in its entirety, USC's defense has been more than Lane Kiffin could ask for in 2013.
Fast, tough and extremely well coached, this defense harkens back to the very best offered during the salad days of Pete Carroll.
In fact, based on what we have seen so far this year, a strong case could be made that USC is in possession of the nation's finest defense.
Now if Kiffin can only do something about that woeful offense...