Nov. 26, 2011; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin reacts after the defense stopped the last offensive drive by the UCLA Bruins in the fourth quarter at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Southern California won 50-0. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Pac-12 Conference Football Preview: USC Trojans (Part 2: Defense)

The USC Trojan defense had a very nice and successful season last year. The Trojans gave up an average 23.6 points per game in 2011. They only gave up more than 40 points three times during the season (Arizona State, Arizona, and Stanford) with their biggest loss being the triple overtime match-up against Stanford. However, the USC defense had some good games as they beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend and the Oregon Duck in Eugene. Just like the rest of the team, the USC Trojan defense played a “bowl worthy” season, but could not play in one because of the Reggie Bush bowl ban.

Much like the offensive side of the ball, the defense for the Trojans is all about what was kept rather than what was lost. USC will have eight starters returning on defense in 2012. These starters include: Isiah Wiley, Lamar Dawson, Jawanza Starling, Devon Kennard, Wes Horton, Nickell Robey, Hayes Pullard, Dion Bailey, and T.J. McDonald.

The key player among the eight returning starters is T.J. McDonald. McDonald started at the safety position last year for USC. During last season, he recorded 67 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss for four yards, three interceptions for 37 return yards, two broken up passes, five pass deflections, one fumble recovery, and one blocked kick. Another reason why McDonald will be a key player this season is because of USC’s pass defense.

According to the 2012 USC Football Media Guide, Lane Kiffin, head coach of the Trojans, said:

“Most importantly, we must improve our pass defense, which has been vulnerable the past two years. We Have a good chance of doing that in 2012 as we return our back seven players.”


The main reason why the Trojan pass defense has been vulnerable in the past is because of who they have faced. For example, their only two losses last season came against Pac-12 teams with NFL-ready quarterbacks. These two quarterbacks would be Brock Osweiler and Andrew Luck.

The Trojans met Osweiler first in September at Sun Devil Stadium. The Trojans entered the game with a record of 3-0 while the Sun Devils entered with a record of 2-1. Brock had himself a fairly nice game as he threw for 223 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. ASU defeated USC by a score of 43-22.

The second NFL-ready quarterback the USC defense played last season was the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Andrew Luck. The Trojans met Luck in a Halloween weekend match-up in Los Angeles. The Stanford Cardinals entered the game with a perfect 7-0 record and a #6 ranking as the Trojans were unranked with a record of 6-1. Andrew Luck had a great game (which was equally matched by Matt Barkley). Luck threw for 330 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception which he threw on a Spider 3 Y banana. However, Luck and the Cardinals edged out the Trojans in three overtimes by a score of 56-48.

This season should be easier for the USC pass defense because both Osweiler and Luck are in the NFL now. Luck was drafted first overall to the Indianapolis Colts and Osweiler was drafted by the Denver Broncos.

Other USC players that will need to step up on pass defense include: Nickell Robey, Jawanza Starling, and Isiah Wiley.

The USC Trojans will enter the 2012 season ranked #3 in the pre-season polls (#1 in the ESPN Power Rankings).

For more stories on USC, check out the Reign of Troy.

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Tags: 2012 NFL Draft Andrew Luck Arizona Arizona State ASU Brock Osweiler Denver Broncos Devon Kennard Dion Bailey Ducks General Eugene Hayes Pullard Indianapolis Colts Isiah Wiley Jawanza Starling Lamar Dawson Lane Kiffin Los Angeles Matt Barkley Nickell Robey Notre Dame Notre Dame Fighting Irish Oregon Reggie Bush South Bend Southern Cal Spider 3 Y Banana Stanford Stanford Cardinals Sun Devil Stadium Sun Devils T.J. McDonald USC USC Football USC Trojans Wes Horton

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