USC defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze has seen his group take small strides throughout the season. Coming into the season, the unit was a giant question mark after losing five seniors and their most experienced returning player to a torn knee ligament in the spring.
But the addition of Utah graduate transfer Stevie Tu'ikolovatu and junior college transfer Josh Fatu along with the emergence of outside linebackers Porter Gustin and Uchenna Nwosa has allowed the defensive line to provide significant contributions. Tu'ikolovatu has been a mountain in the middle of the line while Fatu has provided depth. Gustin is second on the team with 39 tackles and leads the Trojans with 5.5 tackles for loss. Both Gustin and Nwosu are tied for the team lead with two sacks each. The defensive line group seems to be improving each week, shining during the Trojans' back-to-back wins.
In the last two weeks, the defensive front has helped USC shut down the rushing attacks of Colorado and Arizona State, holding the two teams to a combined 171 yards on the ground. The pass rush tallied seven sacks after having a three-game drought prior. The defense also knocked the starting quarterback from the game in the first half of both games. (Colorado starter Steven Montez ended up returning after halftime.)
From a broad perspective, as the defensive line has played, so have the Trojans. USC is 3-0 when holding teams below 100 yards rushing and 0-3 when it doesn't. They have also averaged three sacks per game in victories compared to one per loss.
Udeze wasn't willing to take credit for the improvements the line has made. Instead, he deferred.
"It's a culmination of all the coaches really putting the guys in the right places to make plays," Udeze said. "I work handily with Coach [Johnny] Nansen and we do a really good job of just making sure they know the situations they are going to be in and giving them as much information as they need to be successful."
The group has been without starter Noah Jefferson, who injured his shoulder in Week 2 and isn't expected back until November after he catches up on his academics that he fell behind on when he went home to deal with a personal issue. But former five-star defensive end Rasheem Green has stepped back into the starting lineup and quickly is progressing into the type of impact player USC envisioned when the sophomore signed out of Gardena (Calif.) Serra. He leads all down linemen with 26 tackles, including a pair of sacks, and forced a fumble.
"I just had a chip on my shoulder because I haven't been able to play as well as I wanted to these past couple of games," Green said last week. "I feel like I did better [against Arizona State], but I still have room to improve. I will just continue to practice hard and watch film in my free time and continue to play."
"He's one that he can do multiple things really well," Udeze said of Green. "I'm happy with the steps that he's taking, but he's nowhere near where I think he's going to end up when it's all said and done."
Watch Kenechi Udeze talk about the progression of his unit, including the strong play of former five-star defensive end Rasheem Green.
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