LOS ANGELES-Now that we’ve gotten all of the preliminary stuff out of the way, it’s time for some football. Mainly, it’s time for some USC football: tailgate parties, Traveler the horse doing victory laps around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field, and yeah, winning some football games. The expectations are high for the Trojans in 2015. They are so high that the USC is viewed to be among the best in college football.
This is Los Angeles, so that means a star-power going around. And the Trojans have plenty of that with Heisman Trophy candidate Cody Kessler, budding superstar playmakers in Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster giving USC that high-gear entertainment on the offensive end.
But to make a serious run at the Pac-12 South title and getting an invitation to a major bowl game, the Trojans are going to have to do the job on the defensive front. That’s just the way it is. They certainly have the talent to do it. And the speed. The very first thing that catches the eye immediately when attending one of USC practices is the Trojans’ speed on defense.
Manning one of two corner positions is Jackson, the Pac-12 track and field champion in the men’s long jump. Easily, a 10.5 100-meter guy, Jackson brings to the table world-class speed. But the Trojans aren’t lacking in the speed department anywhere else. The freakish athleticism that linebackers Jabari Ruffin and Su’a Cravens offer up is going to be troubling for a lot of opponents.
The defensive line lost Man-child Leonard Williams, but Greg Townsend, Claude Pelon and Antwuan Woods should pick up the slack. They don’t have a choice but to move the defensive pressure up another knot if USC wants go back to playing and whipping the big boys in college football. Judging by the Trojans’ No. 77 ranking last season in total defense, according to FBS statistics, it is almost a mandate the team step up their defensive efforts.
The Pac-12 Conference is full of teams with plenty of fliers running around everywhere on the offensive side of the ball. This season, the Trojans should be able to go toe-to-toe with the teams in the Pac-12 Conference that like to showcase their speed burners. That would be the likes of an Oregon squad that enjoys running by people or an Arizona team with its read-option, wide-open offensive playbook.
The key to the Trojans’ defensive success, according to Ruffin, who had to sit out the entire 2014 season because of a knee injury, is based in the fundamental principals of solid tackling.
“[It’s] Tackling and getting guys to the ground and finishing…on the entire team, it’s finishing,” Ruffin said on the last day of fall training camp practice. “So I feel like, as a defense, if we’re finishing plays, taking guys to the ground and not relying on other guys to help us, that’s a big thing that’s going to carry over into the season.”
Ruffin said what he likes about this defensive squad is that everyone has something different and unique to offer.
“I like how everyone has a different skill set that they bring to the table,” Ruffin said. “There are times I’m out on the edge. Then there are times when I’m over center, as well as Su’a (Cravens). A lot of guys just have different skill sets.”
The skill set that defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. brings to the table is rushing the passer. The son of former NFL defensive stalwart Greg Townsend, Junior plays a bit similar like his father, trying to create havoc into an opponent’s backfield with a nonstop motor. Jelling together is a key component for a defense and the success it has. With that being said, Townsend said the Trojans defense have built upon those parameters during training camp.
“We’ve just been working together, building our camaraderie. We’ve been hanging out a lot, and we’re just trying to make sure we can be the best defensive unit and fight for our brothers this season,” Townsend said.
One of the advantages that might play into the Trojans’ favor this season is experience. USC is lining up six seniors and three juniors to its starting defensive unit this season. Townsend, a fifth-year senior, sees that as a good thing.
“As a senior, I like that we have a lot of seniors on the defensive unit and that we have a lot of experience,” Townsend said. “We’re just ready to go out there and play our hearts out. We’re trying to to leave it all on the field. For a lot of us, this is our last season…we want to make sure it is a memorable season.”