USC Front SevenFor all the potential in the defensive line, it's hard not to regard their performance as something of a disappointment. The front four has been close to plenty of game changing plays, only for the likes of Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler and Nick Foles of Arizona to escape. The run defense has been stout, allowing 3.4 yards per carry and less than 100 yards per game. With two emerging linebackers and incredible athleticism up front, it will be up to Trojans assistant head coach Monte Kiffin to turn their promise into wins against the heart of the schedule.
Defensive End #96 Wes Horton – Horton alternates with Devon Kennard and is a more complete defender against the run and pass, whereas Kennard is a better pure pass-rusher. Ironically, he has two more sacks that Kennard.
Nose Tackle #44 Christian Tupou – Missing last season with a knee injury, Tupou has returned as the emotional leader of the USC defense. He is a classic case of a player whose physical limitations are overcome by his work ethic and determination.
Defensive Tackle #98 DaJohn Harris – Where did this come from? Always highly regarded for his potential, ‘Juicy' has put it together as a redshirt senior under defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, tied for the team-lead in tackles for loss with six and pass breakups with four.
Defensive End #8 Nick Perry – Perry has been an absolute monster, racking up 30 tackles, six tackles for loss, and a team-best four sacks. With his remarkable athleticism, don't be shocked if he is a top 15 pick in the next NFL draft.
Strongside Linebacker #18 Dion Bailey – The biggest surprise of the season, hands down. Bailey was moved from safety to linebacker in the spring and was supposed to be a specialty player to help defend spread offenses. Instead, he has emerged as an every-down player, the team's top tackler with 48 and came through with a pair of interceptions against Cal.
Middle Linebacker #54 Chris Galippo – Galippo forced a fumble and intercepted a pass last season against the Irish, but was devoured on the game-winning drive. His limitations in pass defense continue to be an issue, as are the sheer number of reps he had to play against Arizona State and Arizona.
Weakside Linebacker #10 Hayes Pullard – Like Bailey, Pullard is a redshirt freshman that has asserted himself as the future of the Trojans defense. The one concern is his one tackle against the spread passing attack of Arizona State, a disappearing act that can't repeat itself in South Bend.
USC SecondaryGood news or bad news first? While USC has cut down on the dramatic number of explosive plays it has allowed, it is still allowing 271.7 yards per game as opponents are content to dink and dunk their way down the field. Either the coverage needs to tighten up or the pass rush needs to be a half step quicker to take down the quarterback.
Cornerback #21 Nickell Robey – Listed at 5-foot-6, Robey's diminutive stature is overcome by his ferociousness. He has four pass breakups, but has yet to record an interception this year. Given the Trojans' performance against the larger receivers of Arizona State, Arizona and Cal, he must play bigger this week.
Strong Safety #29 Jawanza Starling – Starling lost his job last season because of an inability to tackle, exposing the defense to a barrage of big plays, but has shown dramatic improvement this year and is coming off his best game to date last week at Cal.
Free Safety #7 T.J. McDonald – After making his name as an in the box safety in 2010, McDonald delivered with two crucial interceptions against Arizona. His tackles have dropped off thanks to improved play by the linebackers, but the junior is more than capable of delivering the big hit.
Cornerback #14 Isiah Wiley – Wiley, a junior college transfer, likely would have been an opening day starter had he enrolled in January as originally planned. With Torin Harris likely out with a shoulder injury, he brings more size and physicality to the defensive backfield, critical against Michael Floyd.
Defensive Tackle #90 George Uko – Uko is like former USC standouts Sedrick Ellis and Mike Patterson, a big disruptive presence capable of getting into the backfield and after the quarterback. At 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, the redshirt freshman will make his presence felt for years to come.
Defensive End #42 Devon Kennard – After a two year experiment at linebacker abruptly ended this summer, the former five-star recruit is back playing defensive end. While he has only two tackles for loss and no sacks this season, he has been effective pressuring the quarterback and coaches believe he is close to a breakthrough.
Linebacker #55 Lamar Dawson – A true freshman regarded as the future in the middle, Dawson should return this week after missing the last three games with a sprained ankle. He will provide Galippo with some much-needed rest.