USC defensive preview

USC's defense may struggle at times, but it still has plenty of talent. Read on to see the players to watch out for Saturday.

With all of its struggles in the early part of the season, it certainly would benefit the Arizona offense to play against a team that is having its own problems on the defensive side of the ball.

That matchup isn't likely to take place on the road Saturday against the USC Trojans, who currently rank fourth in scoring defense as well as total defense in the Pac-12, as the group allows 22.8 points on 336 yards per game.

Even though it ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-10 a season ago, it appears that with seven starters returning the Trojan defense has improved in 2011; although it did allow 43 points to Arizona State in last week's contest in Tempe.

The defensive line is the most experienced group of the defense, as it returns four players that have been starters at one point or another in their USC career. Redshirt junior Nick Perry was a Freshman All-American in 2009 when he recorded eight sacks, and so far the 6-foot-3, 250-pound pass-rusher shares the team lead with two sacks.

Perry also has 18 tackles, good for fifth on the team, as well as three tackles for loss. At the opposite end position is Phoenix native Devon Kennard, who made the transition back to defensive end after spending time earlier in his career at linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound junior has yet to record a sack in 2011, but does have 12 tackles this season.

After missing all of 2010 with a knee injury, 6-foot-2, 300-pound senior Christian Tupou is back in at his defensive tackle position. He earned Pac-10 Honorable Mention for his performance in 2009, and as a fifth year senior has picked up six stops in four games.

The real force in the middle of the defense is senior DaJohn Harris, who at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds is an impressive athlete as well as a tough player to block. Through four games, Harris already has four tackles for loss as well as half a sack and three pass break ups.

The combination of Harris and Tupou make things very hard for opposing defenses in the middle, and they anchor the Pac-12's number three run defense, allowing just 108.3 yards per game to opponents.

Converted safety Dion Bailey is in his first season as a linebacker and starter for USC, but so far the redshirt freshman has made the transition flawlessly. The 6-foot, 200-pound freshman leads the Trojans with 26 tackles and is tied with Perry for the team lead in sacks with a pair of quarterback takedowns. By adding strength to his existing skill set, Bailey uses his speed and instincts to be an effective player for the Trojans.

Second in tackles for the Trojans is another redshirt freshman, 6-foot, 225-pound outside linebacker Hayes Pullard. He currently has 24 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and one sack. Both Bailey and Pullard are young, but so far they're showing their ability to hold up in the middle of the USC defense.

USC has more experience at middle linebacker though, as redshirt senior Chris Galippo is now in his fifth season with the program. A highly-touted linebacker out of Servite High School in 2007, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior has battled injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career, but looks as if he may be putting it together in his final season.

The senior is tied for third on the team with 21 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. A two-time honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection, his veteran presence in the middle of the defense has been instrumental to the transition of Bailey and Pullard, and if he continues to improve this season, Galippo has the potential to play on Sundays.

The secondary for USC is a group that has several key players returning, but so far has been an average unit, ranking fifth in the Pac-12 by giving up 227.8 yards per game to its opponents.

True sophomore Nickell Robey is back at corner after picking off four passes and earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors as a freshman. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound athlete has yet to pick off a pass this season, but he does have 15 tackles and a couple of pass break ups.

Opposite of Robey is former walk-on Tony Burnett; a converted track athlete who has transformed himself into a successful football player. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior has 13 tackles on the season, but he shares the position with Torin Harris.

Harris, a 6-foot, 180-pound redshirt sophomore has recorded the team's lone interception, and ranks sixth on the team with 17 tackles.

At free safety, junior T.J. McDonald may be the most talented player on the defense. A Second-Team All-Pac-12 performer as a sophomore, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior has picked up right where he left off in 2010 with 21 tackles, good for third on the team. A former teammate of Robert Golden at Fresno (Calif.) Edison High School, McDonald may be the best safety in the Pac-12 and is someone that must be accounted for on every down.

Keys to the game:

1. Jump balls versus Robey: As talented as the sophomore is, it does't make up for the fact that he's still only 5-foot-8. With Juron Criner and Dan Buckner both enjoying sizable height advantages, it would be beneficial for Arizona to exploit the opportunity to go over the top on the USC corner.

2. Protect: This is as talented of a defensive line group as UA has faced all season long, and if it hopes to keep its quarterback upright, it is going to have to do its best to keep Perry, Tupou and company from getting to Foles.

3. Smart throws: Although it hasn't created many turnovers this year, under Monte Kiffin, USC is a team that disguises coverage well and forces opponent's quarterbacks into throws that have no chance of completion. Foles' ability to recognize coverage and make timely and accurate throws will play a large part in how successful Arizona is at moving the ball offensively.

4. No drops: The dropped passes have absolutely killed Arizona this season, both in terms of scoring and momentum. The receivers have to make plays when called upon to keep the drives moving and give the offense the best chance to put points on the board.

5. Come out firing: In its three losses, Arizona has had a slow start offensively and found itself in a hole that is has been unable to work its way out of. A quick start would take some pressure off the defense and give them a chance to settle into the game, and would also serve as a much needed boost of confidence for Foles and his offense.

Wildcat Authority Top Stories