The Southern Cal defense has been strong all season, but they've really started to hit their stride the last four weeks. They don't have a lot of stats that jump off the board and scream greatness, but they are solid in virtually every defensive category and outstanding in one key category: 3rd down conversions. Southern Cal holds opponents to a 32% conversion rate, which is good for 12th in the country.
Southern Cal earns that conversion rate by being strong against the run, allowing just under four yards per carry. The fact that they're strong against the run is amazing considering the fact that Boston College ran 54 times for 452 yards against this defense in September. Since that game, however, Southern Cal has only allowed 100+ yards rushing three times, and twice held teams to less than 40 yards.
The defense is led by Leonard Williams (6'5 300 lbs Jr.) up front. Williams can play any position along the line, and he's good at each one. It doesn't matter if he lines up at nose, 3 tech, or end, he's Southern Cal's best lineman at each position, and our line will have to keep account of where he's lined up at all times. The other lineman are NT Antwaun Woods (6'1 325 lbs Jr.), DT Delvon Simmons (6'5 295 lbs. Jr.), and end Scott Felix (6'2 230 lbs. So.).
Behind the line, Southern Cal boasts some of the most athletic linebackers in the country. OLB's Su'a Cravens (6'1 225 lbs., So.) and Anthony Sarao (6'0 220 lbs., Jr.) flank MLB Hayes Pullard (6'1 235 lbs., Sr.). Pullard leads the team with 75 tackles, Sarao is 3rd on the team with 62 tackles, and Cravens is 5th with 52 tackles. Cravens is a converted safety that everyone knew would add coverage strength to the defense, but he has held up surprisingly well against the run. Cravens leads the team with 14 tackles for loss and is 2nd on the team with 5 sacks. His speed will pose a problem to our tackles when he blitzes, and I would suspect Southern Cal to send him early and often. As a group, this is one of the lighter linebacking corps we've seen all year, but they can run and match up well against our spread offense with their overall speed and athleticism.
In the secondary, Southern Cal starts a couple of true freshman in CB Adoree Jackson (5'11 185 lbs., Fr.) and SS John Plattenburg (5'11 180 lbs.), as well as CB Kevon Seymour (6'0 185 lbs., Jr.) and FS Gerald Bowman (6'0 205 lbs., Sr.). Talent wise, Jackson and Seymour are the best duo we've faced all season, but I suspect that Mazzone will test their tackling ability early with his screen game. Like the linebackers, the safeties are small, but they bring a lot of coverage ability. Plattenburg was recruited as a corner, so he won't be mismatched when he lines up on a receiver, but he's a small corner playing SS, and could have trouble holding up in the running game. As a whole, the pass defense has been consistent but not spectacular all season. Southern Cal gave up a lot of yards through the air to Arizona St., Arizona, and Washington St. but they also stone walled each of their running games. Outside of those three games, only Stanford and Cal have passed for more than 250 yards.
That concludes the Southern Cal preview. Fire away with additional thoughts, comments, and favorite stories about the crosstown rivalry.