Monday, June 24, 2024

USC defensive players put blame on themselves, not Alex Grinch, for struggles

Must read

LOS ANGELES — Before anyone had a chance to ask the question, before the blame for a defensive collapse could be placed on familiar shoulders, USC safety Bryson Shaw went on the offensive at the Colorado postgame podium.

Leaning back in his chair, he gestured frantically in an admirable display of passion, bringing up defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s name out of the blue. We’re letting him down, Shaw repeated, with the savvy of a kid who seemed starkly aware that a swath of USC fans pinned the blame on Grinch for last season’s defensive woes.

When asked about playing Colorado quarterback Sheduer Sanders, Shaw made the point, throwing his hand up exasperatedly – Sanders made plays by escaping the pocket, which Grinch preached constantly in the meeting room. And things, Shaw agreed to another question, simply “weren’t happening” defensively, but with the added caveat that we love Coach Grinch.

“There’s no other coach we’d rather have,” Shaw said Saturday after a 48-41 victory over Colorado. “We love him. He’s doing his job. We’re not doing ours as players.”

It was a stunning display of accountability, a college athlete taking up a verbal pitchfork for a 43-year-old mentor. In line, too, with what many who have worked with Grinch believe about him: players, as uncle and former Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said, are “going to play for him because they’re going to love him.”

But was there truth behind Shaw’s words, or was it just a post-ugly-game show of face for a coordinator who has endured plenty of public finger-pointing?

“You can’t say he’s wrong,” linebacker Mason Cobb said on Tuesday, when asked if he agreed with Shaw that Grinch was putting players in the right spots. “I mean, we’re there. We’re missing tackles. That means we’re in the right spot.”

Watch the game film of USC-Colorado – as simple as touchdown plays – and it’s hard to disagree with Shaw or Cobb. There, late in the third quarter, was Shaw careening by after a catch from Colorado’s Michael Harrison, a blown tackle led to an untouched touchdown. There, a few minutes later, was Sanders escaping the pocket after lineman Anthony Lucas dove and missed, firing another touchdown rope between two Trojan defenders.

And after each play, Shaw and Lucas smacked the turf in disgust. Frustration, seemingly, out of execution, not formation.

When asked if he agreed with Shaw’s statement – putting his guys in the right spots and seeing a lack of such execution – Grinch continued the relentless optimism he’s been pushing, through both defensive boom and turmoil, since the fall.

“If you’re a coach, what you can’t do is then all of a sudden say, ‘Well, you can’t have an impact,’” Grinch said Tuesday. “You have to coach them through everything.”

Head coach Lincoln Riley made the point after Saturday: he still believes in Grinch. Believes, too, that defensive issues don’t look like last year’s to the “trained eye,” as he said – doubling down Tuesday, pointing to a “sturdier front overall” and less blown plays.

“We’ve played some stretches of ball this year,” Riley said, “that, frankly, I don’t know if we were capable of playing last year.”

But the post-Colorado takeaways Riley pointed to on Tuesday – finish tackles and keep the quarterback in the pocket – have been takeaways since USC’s first game against San Jose State, when they struggled to contain Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. And Saturday was the worst showing yet, with the Trojans missing 17 tackles against the Buffs, according to Pro Football Focus.

You’ve got to lose a game to learn the lesson, Grinch said Tuesday, in seeming reference to a Colorado game that graded out as a USC win but didn’t quite feel like one.

Lessons, though, haven’t seemed to sink in quite yet.

“We’re fighting, scratching, clawing,” Grinch said. “Not hiding under our desk.”

More articles

Latest article