10 defensive keys for USC vs. Oregon State

·6 min read

USC goes to Corvallis knowing it has an offense which can light up the scoreboard and make lots of big plays. The Trojans go to the Pacific Northwest knowing they have a defense which has come up with a lot of red-zone stops and will probably need to replicate that formula if it is doing to escape Reser Stadium with a victory.

The obvious concern with a defense whose best plays occur in the red zone: What if an opponent doesn’t make mistakes in the red zone this time? Then what?

USC’s offense will need to be on top of its game, but that’s a separate conversation. The big question for USC’s defense is if it can somehow prevent Oregon State from getting into the red zone on a regular basis. That would mark a step forward for this group.

Let’s look at the foremost keys for the USC defense versus the Beavers:

THE LATE-NIGHT RUSH

Sep 17, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers running back Deshaun Fenwick (5) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Montana State Bobcats at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State has a solid passing attack, but one would have to think the Beavers, knowing Caleb Williams is on the other sideline, will focus on ball control in an attempt to keep USC’s offense off the field. USC’s rush defense is worse than its pass defense. This is where the Trojans need to evolve and grow the most in Corvallis.

THIRD AND 7

Sep 17, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan (10) throws the ball during the second half against the Montana State Bobcats at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

When Oregon State and QB Chance Nolan get into third-and-medium situations, can USC’s defense get off the field? This might be the single biggest plot point in the whole game, because it will determine how many possessions Caleb Williams gets.

LINEBACKERS AND SAFETIES IN RUN SUPPORT

Sep 17, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Anthony Gould (2) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second half against the Montana State Bobcats at Providence Park. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Lines of pursuit. Angles of attack. USC’s linebackers and safeties have often taken the wrong path to a ballcarrier. That simply can’t happen with great frequency against Oregon State. Period. We need to see growth and development from the USC defense in this regard.

OREGON STATE TARGETS

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers tight end Teagan Quitoriano (84) is congratulated by tight end Luke Musgrave (88) after scoring a touchdown in the first half of the game against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Tight end Luke Musgrave, a featured target in the OSU passing game, is out. USC needs to be ready to handle Musgrave’s backups. Running back Trey Lowe is also expected to miss this game. USC needs to study up on the OSU players who will fill in for these stars. The Trojans can’t get caught flat-footed just because they might not know as much about the Beavers’ backups.

DON'T TAKE A CHANCE

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback Chance Nolan (10) looks to pass the ball in the first half of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Chance Nolan has thrown the ball well this season for Oregon State, but he can also make plays outside the pocket if needed. USC should be focused on a general defensive approach in which it keeps Nolan in the pocket and trusts its corners in one-on-one coverage downfield. Gambling could lead to overaggressive plays which OSU and Jonathan Smith can exploit. Stay disciplined.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison (0) in congratulated by Oregon State Beavers offensive lineman Jake Levengood (70) after a touchdown in the first half of the game against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The USC defensive line was not terrible against Fresno State. If it can avoid being terrible against Oregon State — meaning that it plays at an average or even slightly above average level — that might be good enough to help the USC offense win the game. Oregon State has a quality offensive line. The USC D-line needs to fight to a draw in that battle. It doesn’t have to win. A draw would be significant for the Trojans.

CHANGE-UPS

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Oregon State Beavers linebacker Jack Colletto (12) runs for a first down before he is stopped by USC Trojans safety Isaiah Pola-Mao (21) in the first half at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

USC’s defensive staff needs to be ready to adjust to any changes of pace or style from Oregon State. The Beavers are missing a few key pieces on offense, so while that might seem to be an advantage for USC, it does force OSU to be more creative. Conveying that point to every USC defensive player is a part of preparing the defense for this challenge in Corvallis.

JONATHAN SMITH'S PLAYBOOK

Dec 19, 2020; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Oregon State Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith walks the sideline during the first half against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon State loves to run the ball, but so far this season, the Beavers have thrown the ball more than many expected them to. Injuries at running back have affected this reality, but it’s still notable. One gets the sense Jonathan Smith is sitting on something and that he’s waiting to unleash a new line of attack against USC. Alex Grinch previously coached at Washington State when Jonathan Smith was offensive coordinator at Washington under Chris Petersen. Grinch needs to dig into the vault and explore how Smith might adjust to Grinch’s concepts. This is the overlooked chess match on Saturday, but it could decide the outcome.

MISDIRECTION

Sep 25, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; The Oregon State Beavers take the field for the game against the USC Trojans at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

USC has been vulnerable to misdirection plays. Stay home, guys. Stay home and focus on your assignments and keys.

GRINCH'S MOMENT OF TRUTH

Apr 23, 2022; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during the spring game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There will be games this season when USC scores 50 points and the USC defense gives up 38, and it’s fine. This might not be one of those games, however, since Oregon State can control the ball and keep Caleb Williams off the field. We need to see the USC defense raise its level of play. The Trojans’ defense won’t be consistently good every week, but this is a moment to raise the bar — if only by two or three inches — and create the winning margin the Trojans need in a massive game for the program.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire