For all the talk about how USC made the best out of a bad situation this summer by installing its new defense via Zoom, there really isn’t a replacement for actual, live reps.
So while the Trojans got the job done against Arizona State, especially down the stretch of the fourth quarter, new coordinator Todd Orlando could see the effects of having spring football canceled by the pandemic. The evidence was there from in-play execution to pre-snap reaction to the Sun Devils’ motions and shifts.
“There were a couple plays out there that we just kind of lost our minds,” Orlando said Wednesday. “And when you watch the tape, you think first ball games.”
That was the tone Orlando struck during his Zoom press conference this week: Tough and honest about the shortcomings, but fair in the assessment, understanding the limitations that the circumstances have presented and sure to praise those who he thought stepped up.
Starting with his own position group, Orlando didn’t lavish praise on the linebackers’ performance in the season opener. But he also put a due amount of responsibility on himself.
“Eh, they were okay,” Orlando assessed. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting those guys to play faster, more physical, more violent. They know. We went into that room, and anytime you give up the amount of rushing yards we did, that’s the position where we have to get that stuff corrected.”
Orlando was greeted by a similar attitude from the linebackers in their position meeting after the game.
“I loved our mindset,” he said. “It was like, ‘I’ll get this right, I promise you.’ There was no palms up or point fingers. That’s a really, really good sign for ‘I care and I’m going to get this stuff corrected.’”
But Orlando wanted to give credit where it was deserved, too. As Arizona State’s run game was moving the ball down the field, Orlando had to send some reinforcements to the ground defense, which allowed 258 yards on 38 carries.
That meant leaving the cornerbacks and safeties on an island in man-on-man coverage.
“You put guys out there one on one, somebody gets beat, now you’re in between. But I never felt at one point during the game that those guys needed help,” Orlando said. “I thought they went up there and they challenged guys and they stuck with them, which is really good.”
Orlando was impressed by the way outside linebacker Drake Jackson played in his new role. The coordinator was a little unsure what to expect, because Jackson had missed so much of camp with a hamstring injury. But even with limited statistics to show for it, USC felt like Jackson did a good job of pressuring the quarterback and his first extended play in coverage.
And the coordinator praised defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu for making the plays that USC needed to settle it down.
Tuipulotu, named the Pac-12 defensive lineman of the week for his performance against ASU, said he could see areas where scheme and the new defensive staff helped his play.
“They had us moving around a lot so we weren’t just playing a base defense the whole game,” the junior said. “I feel like kind of my pass rush has gotten a little better thanks to coach Vic [So’oto] and his techniques that he’s been teaching our group.”
It’s that type of feedback that helps Orlando believe that the USC defense, though still a work in progress, is on the right track.
“That fires me up,” Orlando said. “I want to see guys have success but we have to bring it every day.”