Faced with an uptempo offensive opponent and its fifth game in as many weeks, the first cracks in USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's scheme were exposed Saturday against Arizona State.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, as Pac-12 Conference play continues, the problems on display cannot all be remedied during film room sessions or on the practice field.
Sure, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly found seams in the secondary and repeatedly connected with tight end Chris Coyle and Jaelen Strong, both of who had space to operate. Such plays will be a point of emphasis for the Trojans defense to close down going forward.
The more troubling, long-term issue the Sun Devils exploited was USC's lack of depth.
Arizona State exhausted a USC starting lineup that was virtually impenetrable for the season's first four weeks en route to 62 points—tied for the most ever given up in Trojans history.
The final tally was not on the defense exclusively. The Trojan offense gave up four turnovers, including an interception Sun Devils' defensive back Alden Darby returned for a touchdown.
However, Arizona State went for over 600 total yards, distributing the attack evenly among the run and pass.
Just as USC found an offensive rhythm, gashing Arizona State's defense with big-yard rushes from Tre Madden and Justin Davis, the defense gave up similar explosive plays on the other end.
Marion Grice, Taylor Kelly and Deantre Lewis had long rushes of 28, 40 and 45 yards.
The big plays were not necessarily the backbreakers, though—the Trojans gave up longs of 55 and 24 in Week 4 to Utah State. Rather, it was the continuous onslaught the Sun Devils unleashed, rolling off over seven yards per carry.
Sun Devils' drives, while quick, were grueling. The pace took its toll on the under-manned Trojans.
And every time a player goes down, like standout freshman safety Su'a Cravens, who came up holding his torso late, the loss is amplified.
Rich Hammond of The Orange County Register reports Cravens should recover from the rib injury quickly, but it's just an example of how thin USC's margin for error is.
Su’a Cravens said he hurt his ribs but should be OK— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) September 29, 2013
USC's ability to score effectively and quickly actually fed into Arizona State's offensive game plan. The Trojans' longest scoring drive lasted 4:20. The rest were shorter by at least a full minute.
The offense can't be blamed for making quick work when presented the opportunity. After struggling for three of its first four games, USC was itching to break out. The offensive line played an outstanding first half, protecting quarterback Cody Kessler and opening giant holes for Madden and Davis.
Nevertheless, USC's thin roster is not conducive to playing at such a high tempo. Saturday is hardly the last time the Trojans will be forced into that situation either.
The hurry-up offense is now more the rule than the exception around the Pac-12. USC sees it again when it returns home to face Arizona on Oct. 10, at Cal Nov. 9 and in the season finale against rival UCLA Nov. 30.