I posted earlier with a very superficial look at how Hawaii's defense has improved from this season over the last (and, particularly, compared with its history against USC.) Now, we look at how the specific numbers are likely to bear out over an entire year.
The defense itself passed the eye test. Just watching the game, and ignoring the score, you felt like "wow. There was definitely some improvement here over the last year." But again, the key question is always: How Much?
Overall USC put up 364 yards of total offense. 192 Rushing and 172 Receiving/Passing. Of those receiving yards, 104 were to Marqise on 8 catches (aka 60% of USC's total passing yards.) Here is the biggest anomaly against showing significant improvement by Hawaii's defense. Not because of the yardage total that he actually had, but what he COULD have had. Marquise had three drops, including one for 60 yards and a touchdown. The 80 or so additional yards that he would have gotten from these drops would have resulted in a 31% increase in total passing yards for the team (bringing his own total to 184 yards). So sure, we won't play anyone close to Marqise's level in the remaining games, but we also cannot expect consistently dropped passes either.
The interception by Marrell Jackson was nice. The bogus pass interference penalty? Not as much. Neither was the touchdown to Nelson Agholor (both on Nequan Phillips.) But there was never really any gap in talent here. Both times, the coverage was good, its just that the offensive player made a play that the defender couldn't stop. That happens sometimes in football. More important for the team was the emergence of two additional starters in the secondary, the aforementioned Jackson (who, in addition to the pick) had 5 solo tackles, a tip and two pass breakups, and Dee Maggitt, who had 5 solo tackles of his own. Continued growth (and depth) here is critical, particularly given the proliferation of the hyper-speed spread at the college level. Although not readily apparent against USC, offenses are schemed specifically to spread out a defense and pick apart weaknesses. So, no matter how fast your pass rush, offenses are still able to have success by pinpointing a weak link and exploiting that all game. Hopefully what they showed against SC was just the floor, not the ceiling.
Looking ahead to Oregon State, the Beavers have a much stronger passing attack than USC, at least as far as experience (though they lack the same raw talent.) Will crunch the numbers to see how this projects, but more balance across the board might actually hinder our defense (can't just key in on one guy the entire time, especially considering that Agholor got hurt midway through the game.) We'll see how this plays out.