Three games into the 2013 college football season, USC finds itself sporting a disappointing 2-1 record that has an anxious fanbase wringing its hands.
With a bumbling offense still trying to find its identity—which may or may not have happened with its impressive win over Boston College—the Trojans are still a work in progress to be certain.
However, the mystery that surrounds the men of Troy seems to have been answered in at least one crucial area—the defense, which has undergone a major transformation under new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Pendergast, who was hired in the offseason to replace Lane Kiffin's father Monte, has turned USC into a smothering, aggressive defense, one that has become the face of a team that is still incomplete.
Offering a 3-4 scheme that often takes on the look of a 5-2 alignment, Pendergast is utilizing the Trojans' strength, the front seven. That includes such studs as interior linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko along with outside linebackers Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard.
The result is that as of this writing, USC can claim the fourth-best total defense in the nation, giving up a measly average of 212 yards per contest.
Pendergast's scheme is designed to pressure from the outside in order to force things to the middle. His charges are doing just that, which helps explain why they are also ranked second overall in rushing defense, allowing a paltry 43.7 yards a game.
But pressure is nothing without penetration. USC is also one of the best in the game in that area, as indicated by its sixth-place position in tackles for loss, averaging over nine per game.
You want more evidence of that penetration? The Trojans are tied for third in the nation in sacks, averaging four in that category.
To be honest, the abilities of the front seven were well known prior to the start of the season. The concern was the defensive backfield.
Those worries have been abated with the inspired play of a secondary that few had faith in at the start of the season.
Despite a bevy of new faces, including Su'a Cravens, a true freshman starter at safety, the defensive secondary has been money. It should come as no surprise that this group is coached by Pendergast himself.
A unit that entered the season the object of scorn and denigration, USC's pass defenders find themselves ranked sixth in the nation in overall pass defense efficiency. Just to show they are opportunistic as well, they are also tied for sixth in the country with six passes intercepted.
All of which makes for a dominant defense, one that should get even better as it becomes more experienced.
Of course, the competition will also improve as the Trojans get into the meatier portion of their schedule, but that is a concern that will be left for future discussions. In the meantime, Trojan fans should relish a defense whose ferocity has not been seen since the salad days of the Pete Carroll era.
And while they are at it, they should celebrate the job their new defensive coordinator has done so far in 2013 where the key change he has brought can be found in every area that the Trojans lacked in 2012.
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