Whether it be fans complaining about Justin Wilcox not dialing up enough blitz calls or pressure from fans about the numerous 4th quarter meltdowns, Wilcox has had to deal with a lot in his first year on the job. USC’s defense ranks in the middle of the pack in most major statistical categories and specifically when it comes to sacks, they check in at 60th in the nation with 20 quarterback takedowns on the year. Wilcox has been heavily criticized about his play calling, most notably rushing only four players a majority of the time. Despite what many fans may think, Wilcox and the defensive coaches do keep track the amount of times they rush four players or more.
“Yeah, it always has to do with your match-ups in the run and pass game and it has to do with the offense, what style of offense are you playing,” Wilcox said. “If you do pressure them, what are the situations to pressure them and then what are the match-ups in the protection and what are the match-ups in the pass game.”
Wilcox and his staff of defensive coaches do look at and analyze this percentage as well. Though it fluctuates form game to game, they usually have a percentage in mind regarding to how often they want to rush more than four players throughout the game.
“I think it changes based on who you are,” Wilcox said. “I think your strength and weaknesses on defense dictate that a little bit too. There’s times when you really want to go after the quarterback, but it might be smarter to cover them and make the one-on-one win up front as opposed to the back end and vice versa. There’s other games where you want to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hands right now and make the one-on-one win in the back end. It’s picking and choosing those based on protections, based on match-ups in the back end, and based on match-ups up front.”
One player who has helped generate some pass rush due to a change in position has been Su’a Cravens. He is second on the team in sacks with four on the year and he’s hurried the quarterback on multiple occasions forcing numerous bad throws. Cravens’ move closer to the line of scrimmage has paid off for the Trojans and Wilcox loves what he sees from the sophomore.
“Well Su’a’s got a pretty good skill set in that he’s agile enough to play in the pass game and can fit the runs and help you as blitzer,” Wilcox said. “Just using him in that role to make the offense account for him whether it’s run or pass.”
USC welcomes the Cal Bears to the Coliseum on Thursday this week and the team from up north has shown a little ingenuity in their offense in recent weeks. Cal hasn’t relied as much on the passing games to attack opponents, rather using the run game to create a more balanced offense.
“Yeah definitely the last two games they are right around 200 yards (rushing),” Wilcox said. “They are multiple, very multiple. They have elements of the run and shoot, they have elements of the quarterback run game, they use tempo, they give you a lot of different formations and they’ll utilize different personnel groupings. Against Oregon State, they had some group with three extra tackles in the game. That’s a little bit Stanford-ish in terms of that. They’ll have some stuff where they’ll run three tailback sets so they’ve got multiples in terms of their formations and their schemes. Run, pass, they’re not just a two-by-two, three-by-one run and shoot team. They’ve really expanded on what they’ve done offensively. So really good. Very, very good.”
Despite the newfound commitment to the run game, Cal still boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in Jared Goff.
“He can throw the ball, he can run the ball, he’s got a very strong arm, he’s efficient with what he does, they move the ball up and down the field on everybody, so (he’s) very good,” Wilcox concluded.