Bend, don't break pass defense will be broken

USC surrendered 425 yards and 41 points to Arizona. Imagine what Stanford and its All-American quarterback Andrew Luck would have done.

At least USC wasn't facing Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck on Saturday.

That might be the only saving grace for a pass defense that was willfully shredded for 425 yards and four touchdowns by Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, because given how Luck has performed this season, the presumptive first overall pick in the next NFL draft might have shredded every record in existence.

The redshirt junior has been nothing short of masterful this season, completing 80 of 112 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns. His lone interception came at Duke, the highlight of its fall, at least until the Cameron Crazies start camping out for basketball season.

Luck showed off a new wrinkle against UCLA, calling plays without a huddle on five drives.

"This was the game we were going to start doing it,'' Stanford coach David Shaw told Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News. "It's 100 percent up to him to get us in the right play."

It seemed to work, as two possessions ended in touchdowns. Luck did just fine when calls were coming in from the sideline too, shredding the UCLA zone defense for 227 yards and three touchdowns with only four incomplete passes.

Needless to say, USC is going to have to breakout something other than the Cover 2 it employed against Foles when Stanford comes to the Coliseum at the end of the month.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin was more than willing to defend the bend, but don't break approach against Arizona, pointing to redshirt freshman Anthony Brown's first career start at corner and a lack of available defensive backs to use a nickel defense against their four and five wide receiver sets.

"We wanted to protect those guys a little bit with our scheme and in the first half I thought it worked," he said. "Obviously we bent a little more that we would like in the second half, but in the end we won the game."

The defense line got decent pressure on Foles, but only sacked him once, as he was able to escape time and again. The secondary did come up with two interceptions, both by safety T.J. McDonald, on errant third-down throws.

"He got frustrated and threw a couple balls into traffic," defensive backs graduate assistant Sammy Knight said. "That's what Cover 2 is supposed to do. It's just up to us to make those plays."

But Luck is more mobile than Foles and more willing to throw the ball away. USC was content to sit back when its own offense was piling up points and avoiding turnovers. Will coaches be willing to abandon their apparent NFL mentality when things aren't going right?

That laid-back approach almost let Minnesota and its 106th ranked passing offense steal a win in the opener. Only when the defense got aggressive on the final drive did they come through with a game-saving interception.

The bigger problem is Luck isn't the only standout signal-caller left on the schedule.

Washington's Keith Price is a more natural fit than Jake Locker to run Steve Sarkisian's pro-style offense and it has shown with 17 touchdown passes, second-best total in the FBS. Darron Thomas of Oregon shredded USC with four touchdown passes last season and has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio this year.

USC can get all the record-shattering performances it wants from quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, but without a defense to back them up, eventually those numbers won't correlate to wins.

Fortunately, there is a bye week and two games to try and get things right.

Luck is coming. Will USC be ready?


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