USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

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USC Football: Which Trojans Must Step Up on Defense to Stop Uptempo Offenses

A point of pride for USC in 2013 was overcoming its limited numbers. The toll of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, combined with the typical build-up of injuries during a season, left the Trojans' roster thin. 

The number 13 is now etched in USC lore, roughly equivalent to the 300 of Sparta. Thirteen is the number of defenders USC played in its upset of then-No. 5 Stanford last November—and as Reign of Troy notes via Twitter, the Trojans' ranks were actually closer to 12 that night: 

Playing such a truncated rotation just isn't feasible for an entire season. Head coach Steve Sarkisian is implementing an uptempo offense that promises to keep the Trojans defense on the field longer than the 26:56 it averaged a season ago. 

More importantly, USC needs both depth and strong performances from its starting defense to contain the Pac-12's hurry-up opponents. After all, Stanford has become something of an anomaly by continuing to huddle.

Even the Trojans spurned the traditional strategy, joining Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State among the Pac-12's uptempo ranks. Sarkisian also introduced a similar philosophy a season ago at Washington. 

Such systems have presented the Trojans with problems in recent years. Pac-12 South foes Arizona State and UCLA combined to score 97 points against USC, resulting in two of its losses. 

USC vs. Uptempo Offenses in 2013
Team Carries Rush Yards Pass Comp./Att. Pass Yards
Washington State 22 7 26/38 208
Arizona State 35 261 24/35 351
Arizona 33 145 28/44 363
Cal 43 190 37/53 293
UCLA 43 188 18/27 208
Fresno State 6 37 30/55 217

CBs Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw 

In 2014, the Trojans face four of the five teams with the most pass attempts in the Football Bowl Subdivision a season ago. Three—California, Fresno State and Washington State—play an uptempo style. 

USC fared well defensively against all three last season, but a thin rotation of defensive backs must be ready for a peppering of passes once again in the coming season. 

USC has some of the top secondary talent in the Pac-12 with safety Su'a Cravens and the cornerback tandem of Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw. The issue for the Trojans isn't the quality, but rather the quantity. 

Depth at cornerback in particular could be an area of concern. Josh Shaw moved to cornerback from safety to address the issue and performed admirably. His four interceptions a season ago were tied for second most on the team.

Seymour is developing into a potential shutdown-style cornerback on the other side.     

Behind them, however, the outlook is murky. Anthony Brown moved to running back, and incoming prospect Adoree' Jackson's role is unknown. Jackson was a star recruit at cornerback, but could play wide receiver. 

With the Trojans boasting one of the stingiest rush defenses in the Pac-12, opponents must test the secondary. That means both Seymour and Shaw will get quite a workout throughout the 2014 campaign. 

DT Delvon Simmons

Stopping the run is critical to USC containing the conference's uptempo offenses, and the Trojans need Texas Tech transfer Delvon Simmons to emerge up front. 

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox told Caroline Deisley for that Simmons made considerable strides during spring workouts:

Delvon has improved daily, and he's played obviously in college football before, but I think he's a guy who will continue to develop and get better and better. He just needs to continue to develop fundamentally, but I think he's a guy that can definitely help us.

Simmons is a big body capable of plugging gaps. Last season against uptempo teams, the Trojans were at their best when meeting ball-carriers at the line, thus forcing opponents to abandon the run early. Simmons could play an integral part in that process now that he's eligible after a mandatory redshirt season.  

LB Scott Starr 

The injury bug plagued Scott Starr for much of his USC career, but a clean bill of health in 2014 could make him a key for the Trojans pass rush.

Starr explained the benefit of a healthy offseason to Keely Eure of Annenberg TV News:   

To have a full offseason [for the first time] since I've been at SC, it's proven to be very helpful. I can have a full offseason [strength] coach Ivan [Lewis] to get stronger in the weight room and be out here [on the practice field to practice my technique. 

Starr shined in the Trojans' spring game. He has positive momentum on which to build in preseason camp and could challenge J.R. Tavai for a starting job. But no matter his place on the depth chart, Starr's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks is crucial with Wilcox implementing a new, 3-4 base scheme. 

Starr must also be able to drop back into pass coverage, a key trait Devon Kennard brought to the position a year ago. 

Statistics compiled via

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