The USC Trojans have had their struggles early this season on offense finding their rhythm with a new quarterback under center. While they looked to have fixed that problem against the Boston College Eagles, they’ve continued to be competitive in games thanks to the dominance of their defense so far this season. With their offensive woes returning on Saturday against the Utah State Aggies, the defense came through once again to save them from another upset loss.
Coming into the game, the Aggies had been one of the more explosive offenses in college football. Through the first three games, Utah State averaged 49.3 points, 29 first downs and 550.3 yards per game. They were an efficient 30 of 46 on third down opportunities but found the going much tougher against the Trojan defense. On Saturday, the Aggies managed just 285 yards, 13 first downs and struggled on third down, converting just 5 of 17 opportunities.
The key to the Trojans’ defensive gameplan for this game was to contain Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton and they succeeded in a major way. Keeton was on a serious roll coming into the game, averaging 307.7 yards and three touchdowns per game through the air while adding 187 yards on the ground with another touchdown. On Saturday, he was bottled up, completing 21 of 39 passes for just 179 yards and was held to negative rushing yardage for the first time in his career (12 attempts, negative-15 yards).
When Clancy Pendergrast came to the USC coaching staff this offseason, most people expected to see some improvement in the play of the Trojans’ defense. So far, however, they’ve been better than anyone could have imagined, playing absolute lights out, shut down defense that has been the difference between USC being where they are right now (3-1) and a truly disastrous opening month of the season.
There are few defensive units in college football that are playing as well as the USC Trojans right now. They are physical, athletic and finally playing up to the tremendous potential everyone has seen in them. If the Trojans can get their offense out of neutral, this team could be a dangerous contender for the Pac 12 South division at season’s end.