USC Finds Recipe for Success with Ground-and-Pound Approach

Kyle KensingContributor ISeptember 14, 2013

USC responded emphatically to the closest thing to a must-win game a team can face in the season's third week. In routing Boston College, 35-7, the Trojans didn't just rebound from a flat, 10-7 loss in Week 2 to Washington State—but they also unlocked their most promising recipe to compete in the Pac-12 Conference this season: a run-heavy offense combined with suffocating defense.

For all the criticism head coach Lane Kiffin endured in recent months, he made an important decision in January that gives the 2013 Trojans a solid foundation on which to build. 

The hire of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is paying immediate dividends. His installation of the 52 base scheme puts the team's linebackers in position to make big plays. Against Boston College, they did exactly that. 

Quinton Powell's contribution of a sack and two tackles for loss suggest the freshman can and will play a big role as the season unfolds—something USC needs with its thin bench. 

Safety Dion Bailey told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times before the season Pendergast was "more of a get after the quarterback type of guy" than predecessor Monte Kiffin.

While USC did not approach the staggering seven sacks it recorded against Hawaii, Trojan defenders were routinely in Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig's face. He was forced into an 11-of-24 showing for just 83 yards. 

Since its 30-13 Week 1 win, USC has trimmed a field goal off its defensive yield from the previous contest. The Trojans nearly pitched their first shutout Saturday, only allowing an Eagle touchdown after integrating more reserves into the lineup. 

Defense has not been a problem at any juncture this season, though, as the Trojans have been able to overpower less talented opponents. Offense was USC's albatross for a half against Hawaii and in the Week 2 loss, but it showed a ball-control style on Saturday that should be the team's identity as the season progresses. 

Kiffin put quarterback Cody Kessler, this week's declared team starter, in position to succeed. After an opening play in which Kessler uncorked a deep pass just out of the reach of an open Marqise Lee, the Trojans went to a decidedly ground-based attack. 

USC ball-carriers rushed 43 times to Kessler's 17 passes and Max Wittek's two in the fourth quarter. Pass plays accounted for 30 percent of the offense, down from 33 percent a week ago and 39 percent against Hawaii. 

Sophomore Tre Madden is establishing himself as a star. The running back, converted from linebacker, had his third consecutive 100-yard game. 

Madden helped the Trojans take the air out of the ball, dominating possession for over 36 minutes. The running back also demonstrated his value as a receiver out of the backfield, catching one of Kessler's two touchdown passes. 

He will set the benchmark for just how effective USC can be offensively. 

A Week 4 date against Utah State will provide more telling insight into the Trojans' new, ground-and-pound style. The Aggies boasted one of the nation's top scoring defenses in 2012, and with dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton, they have a potentially explosive offense. 

In the meantime, the Trojans have the right formula for success with their current roster.


Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.