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Will UCLA exploit USC's potential weakness in passing defense? A Preview of the USC Defense

Southern Cal is #99 in passing yards allowed. Can the Bruins make the Trogans pay?

Souther Cal's Su'a Cravens attempts to stop a Husky ballcarrier
Souther Cal's Su'a Cravens attempts to stop a Husky ballcarrier
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to Bruins Nation’s preview of the Southern Cal defense. We previewed the Trogans’ offense yesterday.

We will review Southern Cal’s defensive statistics through eleven games, and see how UCLA matches up on paper. Then we will break down the each defensive position group. Lastly, we’ll briefly analyze how the Bruins offense might match up against the Trogans’ defense on Saturday at the Mausoleum.


Total Defense

Southern Cal is #69 in total defense in the country, allowing an average of 403 yards per game. UCLA is #22 in total offense, averaging 482.2 yards per game (YPG), almost 80 yards more than Trogans concede on average. If UCLA is able to reach its average and perhaps exceed it, the Bruins will have a strong chance of winning the game.

Rushing Defense

The Trogans are #35 in the nation against the run, allowing opponents to gain an average of 137.4 YPG on the ground. The Bruins are #43 in the nation in rushing offense, racking up an average of 191 yards per game. It should be an interesting matchup, as it matches a strength of Southern Cal against a strength of UCLA.

Passing Yards Allowed

The biggest statistical gap between Southern Cal and UCLA is in the passing game. The Trogans are #105 in the nation in passing yards allowed, letting opponents gain an average of 265.6 YPG through the air. UCLA ranks #22 in passing offense, averaging 291.2 YPG. Will Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone attempt to exploit this? IMHO, he did not against Utah when faced with a similar statistical disparity.

Thoughts on the Stats

UCLA should be able to throw the ball against Southern Cal. Whether the Bruins can successfully rush the ball depends on how well the patchwork line performs, and on creative play-calling. Also, the Trogans are #93 in the nation in 1st down defense. If UCLA calls a creative game on 1st down, the Bruins should have success against the Trogan defense.

Defensive Line

Southern Cal has experience on the defensive line, starting three seniors. Greg Townsend, Jr., will start at left end. He has 37 tackles and two sacks on the year. The interior defensive linemen are Delvon Simmons and Antwaun Woods. Simmons has 43 tackles and 4 sacks, while Woods has 27 tackles and 3 sacks.

Although listed as rush linebacker, Felix Scott can also be considered as a defensive end, and we’ll include him here. Scott, a redshirt junior, has 24 tackles and three sacks on the season.

This is a solid unit for the Southern Cal, and is a big reason why they are ranked well in rushing defense, considering that their linebackers are experiencing injury issues.


Su’a Cravens is the Trogans’ star at linebacker. Cravens, a junior, plays outside linebacker and is expected to be a first round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, should he declare. Cravens has 70 tackles, 5 and ½ sacks, and 3 interceptions.

Injury will likely keep weak side linebacker, Osa Masina, from playing on Saturday. The Trogans lost freshman, Cameron Smith (who had been having an outstanding year and is still the Trogans’ leading tackler on the season) and Lamar Dawson two weeks ago at Colorado, so the rest of linebacking corps is thin.

Anthony Sarao, a redshirt senior who has 42 tackles and three sacks on the season, will play extensively. The Trogans will rely on a rotation of sophomore, Olajawon Tucker; junior, Michael Hustings; and sophomore, Uchenna Nwosa to fill the remaining two linebacking spots. Tucker has 18 tackles, Hutchings has 9, and Nwosa has 16. These three guys are pretty green.


In the secondary, Southern Cal might get one player back from injury while another might not play due to injury. Freshman safety, Marvell Tell, who has missed four games, should be back. He has 19 tackles on the year. Chris Hawkins, a sophomore, should start ahead of Tell. Hawkins has 52 tackles in 2 INTs in the season. Junior safety, Leon McQuay III, might not be able to play against the Bruins. If he doesn’t, expect sophomore John Plattenberg to fill McQuay’s spot. Plattenberg has 22 tackles and 2 INTs on the season.

Southern Cal’s corners, Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall, are both young. The sophomore, Jackson, while incredibly talented and having contributed extensively on offense and special teams, only has 23 tackles and one pick on the year on defense. Marshall, a freshman, has 52 tackles and a pick. It seems that many (if not most) of Marshall’s tackles were against receivers who just caught the ball while he was guarding them.

Final Thoughts

The Trogans, like the Bruins, are banged up on defense. If UCLA can get into a rhythm on offense due to creative play-calling, the Bruins can drive and score on Southern Cal. With Southern Cal’s inexperience at linebacker (aside from Cravens), the Bruins would be wise to utilize a short, quick passing game and try to get a receiver (or Thomas Duarte) matched up against Trogan linebackers. Duarte could be a huge key to this game. UCLA must get touchdowns and not field goals, as Southern Cal has a potent offense as well.

It all goes down in two days at the Mausoleum.

Listen to this to get pumped up:

If you have any additional information about the Trogans’ defense or would like to share your thoughts on this article, please do so in the comment section.

Go Bruins! Beat $C!!!