Tuesday, June 25, 2024

USC defense will be pushed to the limit by UCLA

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LOS ANGELES — After a tumultuous couple of weeks, the USC defense finally showed some progress in last week’s 55-17 victory over Colorado. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was happy with the team’s discipline in sticking to the scheme’s philosophies and in making tackles that had slipped through the Trojans’ hands in previous weeks.

That was nice. But the seventh-ranked Trojans (9-1 overall, 7-1 Pac-12) will be pushed to their limit on Saturday against No. 16 UCLA (8-2, 5-2), the best offense USC has faced all season.

The Bruins are fifth in the nation in yards per game (504.0) and 11th in scoring (39.3 points per game). And the last time UCLA faced USC, the Bruins gained 609 yards and scored 62 points.

All things in that contest and with UCLA this season begin with quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The senior has always had raw ability, but his ability to read defenses and make correct decisions have soared this season.

Thompson-Robinson has posted a career-high 71% completion rate while being on pace to set personal bests in passing yards and touchdowns, too.

“There’s so much to like from a quarterback evaluation standpoint. Obviously from a defensive perspective, a lot of frustration,” Grinch said after practice Wednesday. “Very smooth and very efficient, meaning he’s going to take what’s there when he needs to.”

Where Thompson-Robinson can really punish USC is on the ground. Yes, he can run the ball, but he can also escape pressure and look for receivers in the scramble drill. For the USC secondary, that will mean having to avoid breakdowns for long periods of time while waiting for the pass rush to get home.

“We just gotta lock in and focus and play the whole play,” safety Bryson Shaw said. “We just gotta hone into our craft and keeping going and keep swinging at every play.”

Then there’s also running back Zach Charbonnet to contend with after his 167-yard performance against USC a year ago.

“You’re talking about probably the best tailback that we’ve faced this year,” Grinch said. “Run through tackles, runs hard. Has a patience to him that really frustrates you defensively because you might feel like he’s kinda got bottled up and he’s just getting started.”

Grinch is very familiar with the UCLA offense run by head coach Chip Kelly. The two coaches were on staff together at New Hampshire in 2005 and 2006, Grinch serving as cornerbacks coach and Kelly as offensive coordinator.

So Grinch knows better than most what kind of wrinkles Kelly can fold into a game plan, how he can try to sow doubt in defenses with motions and odd alignments. And Grinch is trying to prepare the Trojans for just that.

“What you gotta do is you gotta say, ‘Our rules are our rules,’ and you gotta rule it out,” Grinch said. “If you send a guy in motion and you get a mind explosion, you’re looking for a particular play. You’re not trusting your rules. And along those lines, you gotta trust the guys next to you. There’s no alternative.”

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