"I was just reading the quarterback's eyes," Bailey (6-0, 200) said with humility, after forcing two crucial turnovers that gave USC confidence, despite an offense that lacked consistency Thursday.
"We had to come out and show everybody that we're not as bad a defense as everybody thinks we are. We came out and only held them to nine points, it was huge today," the redshirt freshman said.
Size is always valued in collegiate and professional football, especially at the linebacker position. But good vision seems to be just as valuable a commodity when you make plays like Bailey has time and again.
"He obviously doesn't have the build for a linebacker but he has the knack for the ball and he's fast and he's usually in the right place at the right time," USC defensive end Wes Horton said.
If Bailey didn't open the country's eyes before, his national television performance against California will. He now has 48 tackles in five games and has put himself in the Freshman All-American conversation.
"Yeah Dion was great. He's been great all year for us, probably as consistent a player as we've had," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "Great for him to be a freshman, [he's] on his way to being a Freshman All-American."
When you look at Bailey's frame, you don't see the prototypical linebacker. But look into his eyes, and the fire is the same.
"We're just showing the country that we're not the same defense [as] last year," he said. "It was huge for us as a confidence booster."
Since the start of fall camp, Bailey has said on a variety of occasions that he wants to resurrect a once glorified USC defense and erase the smeared image of the recent past.
And while the Lakewood High product expected this type of play from himself, he was one of a few. This is Bailey's first official collegiate season, and first full-fledged season at linebacker. A safety in high school, Bailey was known for being a playmaker deep, not off the edge like he's doing now.
Horton said he's not surprised Bailey is making the noise and catching the eyes that he has this season.
When he first came in here we all saw he was a good player. He listened, had all his notes ready and [now] when his time came, he's making the most of it," Horton said.
Over the summer, Bailey said he just wanted to make an impact, whether it was as a backup linebacker or on special teams.
But he pushed himself to become the player he is now. And his physical, impressive play has pushed others to excel around him. Linebackers coach Joe Barry has mentioned how proud he is of his young linebackers. And in Bailey, you can see a young man who simply wants to succeed.
The proof is in his eyes.