Whatever defensive end Devon Kennard, linebackers Chris Galippo and Shane Horton and safety T.J. McDonald said clearly worked as the Trojans defense intercepted five passes, three by quarterback Matt Barkley, and dominated Saturday afternoon at Howard Jones Field.
"I liked our hustle," assistant head coach Monte Kiffin said. "I thought we played fast. We feel more comfortable. If you play fast, a lot of good things will happen."
Horton certainly did, flying out of nowhere to intercept Barkley in the red zone, leading Galippo to quip that, "Matt didn't see a lot of guys today.
"It wasn't his best day for him, but I don't think the focus should be on how bad the offense did versus how well the defense did," Galippo said.
"The defense just completely stepped up. We're just a completely different defense."
The defensive line, with Christian Tupou limited by soreness in his surgically repaired left knee and without defensive tackle Armond Armstead (medical), still ran roughshod over the offensive line, allowing seven players to drop back into coverage. Those sheer numbers in the secondary increased opportunities to be around the ball and create takeaways.
The showing was a far cry from a year ago, when USC finished 109th nationally in pass defense and allowed nearly 27 points per game. But with six returning starters and nearly a dozen others with significant experience, USC head coach Lane Kiffin expects a much-improved unit.
"Where we're at right now, after last season and coming into this year, we need to play defense. Defense should be our strength. It's encouraging to see the guys play pretty physical and really get after it," Kiffin said.
"We don't want to get into a bunch of shootouts. We got a young offensive line, so we are going to have to play really good defense."
Galippo credited that experience and newfound leadership with the step up in play.
"Devon Kennard is just about unblockable right now. T.J. McDonald, we all know about him (and) Nickell Robey. We have depth. We have a veteran defensive line. Shane and I are playing well. We've got that wily veteran-ness to us where we are really able to anticipate plays," Galippo said.
With the leaders of the defense being more vocal on and off the field, notably Galippo who had showed a reserved attitude previously, it is indicative of a group out for redemption.
If it carries over to the offense, all the better, Galippo said.
"Whatever we got to do to set the tempo, we got to do," he said. "That is something that we needed to accomplish on the first day in pads and hopefully it will snowball from here. I hope that the offense comes out tomorrow and they have a chip on their shoulder and they come after us a little bit. We could use some of that."
Carlisle Continues to Impress
When the pads come on, freshman skill players tend to fall off. Not so with running back Amir Carlisle, who excelled for the third consecutive practice.
The 5-10, 180 pound Carlisle once again demonstrated quickness and elusiveness, but more impressive was the physical dimension he flashed, using a well-timed stiff-arm and lowered shoulder to pop a pair of defenders.
"Amir continues to show things. It was good to have the shoulder pads to see how physical he tried to run," Kiffin said.
Carlisle's strong start, as well as two early fumbles on the first day of camp, has the defense being aggressive with him every chance they get.
"When a freshman starts to shine a little bit, they (the defense) are going to take their shots at him. He just bounced right back up, so that was good to see," Kiffin said.
-Cornerback Torin Harris left practice early with a possible concussion.