Despite possessing one of the most talented defensive units in the country, the Trojans have been relatively inconsistent so far this season.
One example of that is 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive end Leonard Williams.
Widely considered to be a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, Williams has only been able to tally 2.5 tackles for loss through five games.
He is, nonetheless, an awesome talent and while he may not be putting up eye-popping statistics, his ability to change a game can’t be understated.
As big as these two are, neither has been able to sack the quarterback yet this season and Simmons is the only one of the two with a tackle for loss.
Both players are capable of plugging up the running lanes but, like most players on this defense, have been inconsistent at doing that as well.
Rush end J.R. Tavai has been the most successful at getting in the opposing backfield, as evidenced by his four tackles for loss. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior has generally been a bright spot for the defense and will be asked to step up again on Saturday.
The linebacker unit has been hit or miss as well. Hayes Pullard leads USC with 35 tackles, but has not made many big plays. It will be interesting to see if he can put the end of the ASU game behind him and move forward.
One of the best players in the conference is Su’a Cravens, who has rotated back and forth from his hybrid linebacker/safety position.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore has a ridiculous 8.5 tackles for loss and it often feels as if he is in on every play.
A terror attacking the ball, Cravens has also proven adept in coverage and has the look of a future top ten pick.
Anthony Sarao is a player the Trojans need to step up. He has tallied 26 tackles on the season, but like Pullard, has contributed few big plays.
No USC unit is more perplexing than the secondary due in large part to its performance in the second half of the Arizona State game.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour has eight pass breakups this season and is probably the most physical corner that the Trojans bring to the table.
Lining up opposite Seymour is 5-foot-11, 185-pound true freshman Adoree’ Jackson. He will split time with redshirt freshman Chris Hawkins, but Jackson’s speed gives him the ability to stay with most wide receivers.
USC has received solid play from free safety Gerald Bowman, but he has yet to practice this week due to a deep thigh bruise. The guess here is that he plays, but if he is not 100 percent, it could be major trouble for the Trojans.
Sophomore Leon McQuay is Bowman’s backup and will likely see playing time whether Bowman is healthy or not.
Players to Watch
#94, DT Leonard Williams: There is little doubt that Williams is one of the most talented players in the country. Owning an explosive first step and incredible strength, Williams has been a terror his first two seasons. He hasn’t done much this season, but he is more than capable of erupting at any time.
#10, LB Hayes Pullard: The long time quarterback of the USC defense, Pullard is a very instinctive player who has been a steady defender throughout this career. For USC to have a chance, he must play well.
#21, S Su’a Cravens: Cravens has turned into the player that everyone expected when he committed to USC. A similar performer to ex-USC great Troy Polamalu, Cravens has been a fixture in the backfield of opposing offenses. He has also been a productive pass defender at times.
Keys to the Game
Account for Williams: Although Williams’ junior season has been somewhat of a disappointment, he is the most physically talented player the Arizona offensive line will face this season. The offensive line has done an admirable job of preventing interior rushes and it will be imperative to maintain that identity.
Attack the secondary: The Wildcats should be able to establish the run, but it has to have success in the air to win the game. Solomon should not be afraid to test USC’s secondary deep.
Make the big play: The Trojans don’t turn the ball over and it is unknown how they will react if Kessler throws a pick or Arizona gets the ball off a fumble. Making the big play on Saturday could be the difference between winning and losing.