Chris Wilson is pleased with the defensive line’s play this year, but he also feels like there is lots of room for improvement. To be honest, when is there not?
“I think they’ve been playing well,” Wilson said. “Obviously, it’s never what you want. They’re improving every week. I like some of the things we’re doing in the run game as far as containing the run. Obviously, you’re always trying to find any way you can to affect the quarterback. So again, we have a lot of work to do, but I like the progress we’ve made thus far.”
Everybody and their grandparents know that USC has very little depth this year. This is true for the defensive line, especially with Greg Townsend Jr. and Cody Temple missing some time earlier this season. So to keep players fresh and ready to go, Wilson has shifted entire defensive line groups in and out of games. It’s almost looked like a hockey shift.
“I like the guys,” Wilson said. “They prepare well. They understand our scheme, so I feel like we’re developing a solid two-deep of guys who can help win football games. I like that group. They’re earning it every week in practice so I feel more and more confident every day.”
Speaking of Greg Townsend Jr. and Cody Temple, Wilson says the two linemen are starting to really understand what they’re doing on the field.
“They’re all in, I guess if I could put it any other way” Wilson said. “They understand the urgency you have to play with, the physicality. But more than anything, they’re beginning to understand the package, our defense. I think when you know what to do, it makes you a better football player.”
Coming into the season, it was clear junior Leonard Williams was going to be the most talented player on this defensive line. He’s a potential top five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and has already been tagged as an All-American by many analysts six games into the season. So has Williams surprised Wilson at all this season, on or off the field?
“The thing that really surprises me most about Leonard is how much he enjoys the process,” Wilson said. “A lot of people like game day. Leonard likes the rest of the week also and that really excites you because that’s something that spreads around the room. When you got a guy like that, it makes you better overall.”
The past two weeks, USC faced two teams who had run the ball very well prior to their meeting with the Trojans. D.J. Foster is an All-Conference type back for Arizona State and Terris Jones-Grigsby is a serious threat on the ground for Arizona. USC has done a good job of shutting down the running game of opponents, besides Boston College, and Wilson says they want to force teams to be one dimensional.
“I think it’s like anything when you’re teaching,” Wilson said. “You don’t always get what you want, but you typically get what you emphasize. We’ve made it an emphasis being able to stop run games. We know people every week are going to present challenges for us. We just want to do a great job of forcing guys to try to be one dimensional and give us a chance to go out and rush the passer.”
The sack numbers haven’t been quite as high as season’s previous, but Wilson is not worried at all by this. Despite putting an emphasis on stopping the run game, Wilson doesn’t think he’s sacrificing sacks by doing this.
“Not at all,” Wilson said. “When we talk about sacks, I think that’s the only equation that people actually use. With knowledgeable people in the business, they look at how do you affect the quarterback, are you moving him off of his spot, are you stepping in front of him, are you making him scramble? Obviously, I always say getting sacks is like wanting more money. Everybody wants more money. Everybody wants more sacks. But at the end of the day, we got to constantly harass, move him, knock him down, get him off of his spots, and those add up after awhile.”
The Colorado Buffaloes travel into the Coliseum today to face off against the Trojans and Wilson thinks the Buffaloes are a better team than what their record indicates. They’ve averaged almost 500 yards per game on offense, which obviously poses a threat to this USC defense.
“They’re really good on offense,” Wilson said. “They’re averaging close to 500-yards a game. They do a great job of trying to keep you off balance with a little run and pass. They’re a much improved unit. You look at them up front, they’re very well coached. They’re a good football team and they present challenges. They’re better than what their record presents.”
It seems like every opponent USC faces averages over 500-yards of offense, but Wilson just accredits that to the current state of college football.
“It’s the day-and-age,” Wilson said. “Obviously in this day-and-age, people are spreading the field more vertically and horizontally so you got to play the entire field every snap.”
Marshall Cherrington will be attending USC and the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism beginning in January of 2015. You can follow him on Twitter @MWCherrington.