The USC defense is light years better than last season and much of that has to do with the defensive line, led by tackles Leonard Williams and George Uko. Both command double teams at times, due to their effective run-stopping and pass-rushing presence and they figure to be Rodriguez's main concern.
Flanking Williams and Uko are savvy veteran pass rushers Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard. Breslin isn't the most physically gifted player in the world, but his 13 sacks last season indicate the kind of relentless motor he has. He is questionable to play though, and if he can't go expect Jabari Ruffin to start.
Ruffin is a future all Pac-12 player and has shown glimpses of becoming a pass rushing force. Devon Kennard looks the part but is still largely unproven given his history of injuries. Still, there is plenty of talent there and you can expect him to be aggressive towards the line.
Leading the linebacker corps is Hayes Pullard. The tackling machine is a three-year starter and has been the Trojans most consistent defender over the past few seasons. 6-foot-3, 230-pound Lamar Dawson lines up on the weakside. A solid run defender, Dawson has put up some nice tackle numbers, but he hasn't provided the big plays that SC fans were hoping for.
There are a lot of question marks in the secondary, especially the cornerbacks. Cornerback Kevon Seymour has been one of the leading tacklers in recent weeks but has had his struggles in pass coverage. The same can be said for Josh Shaw, but it looks as if Shaw has moved back to safety with Torin Harris getting the snaps at corner.
USC rolls out multiple hybrid safeties led by Dion Bailey and Su'a Cravens. Bailey has moved back and forth from linebacker to safety throughout his career, but regardless of position, he is a stud. Cravens is a hard-hitter who is always around the ball and while he won't be mistaken for Ed Reed, he has a knack for forcing turnovers. He appears to be the next high NFL pick USC safety.
Demetrius Wright has been the least productive of all the safeties, but like seemingly every other SC player, he is still incredibly talented and figures to play on Sundays. Even with the struggles in the secondary, it figures to be a productive game for the beleaguered defensive backs.
Players to Watch:
#94, DT Leonard Williams This is becoming redundant, but Leonard Williams is on another level. He isn't putting up the same numbers that he did last season, but his impact is clear. Blessed with long arms and unreal strength, he can disrupt the passing game even if he doesn't get to the quarterback.
#90, DE George Uko: Although not as talented as Williams, Uko projects as an early round draft pick Uko's game is all about power and leverage and he has made a career out of blowing up interior running plays. If the UA interior line can deal with him, it will speak well for future success.
#21, S Su'a Cravens: Cravens has had an up and down freshman year, but, with the possible exceptions of Shaq Thompson, there isn't a more talented back seven player in the conference. Blessed with great size and solid instincts, it would not be a surprise if Cravens figures is used as a pass rusher against Arizona's anemic passing game.
Keys to the Game:
Limit the pass rush:. Although USC doesn't have the best defense in the conference, the Trojans have the most talented unit. It all starts up front with Leonard Williams and George Uko. It will be imperative to keep that duo out of the backfield.
Don't turn the ball over: USC scored 41 points last game, but the Trojan offense is inconsistent and it is important that Arizona does not help its momentum.
Pound the ball: USC, along with every other team that plays Arizona, knows what's coming. The Arizona offensive line has to create running lanes for Carey because USC is one of the few teams in the conference with the speed and size to challenge Arizona's running game.