This was the USC defense presented when the Trojans hired coordinator Todd Orlando last winter. Linebackers fly up and make tackles on or behind the scrimmage. A converted defensive ending makes plays in pass cover. Five forced flips, three bags.
And it was exactly what the doctor ordered in USC # 20’s 33-17 victory over Utah on Saturday night.
“I thought they were playing with a swagger tonight and played with a huge emotion,” Helton said of the defense. “[Orlando] has no fear in his calls and the kids believe in him, in the system and tonight it was clear. Confidence simply radiated from them. ”
Despite playing better overall a Utah team competing in their first game since New Year’s Eve, the Trojans (3-0) struggled to put their opponent aside. USC had two trips to the red zone in the third quarter and got away with two field goals.
It gave Utah the chance to drive, 13 behind with the option to reduce the start of the fourth quarter to a one-score race. But when the Utes (0-1) went for it on fourth-and-four of the USC 10, linebacker Ralen Goforth was there before the pass broke up.
It was one of many impressive moments on Saturday for USC linebackers, Orlando’s position group, and one he hadn’t been overly impressed with in two games.
But Kana’i Mauga started the action early when he started in the place of Palaie Gaoteote IV (concussion). Mauga made the first two tackles of the game, each with fierce screams in the air at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“There was a lot of talk with the whole defense that we would be in a bar fight, and that’s basically what we did the whole game,” Mauga said afterwards. “We have led the fight against them. We got hit more than we got, and we came out on top. ”
Goforth and Mauga finished in first and second place among the USC tacklers, for 23 take-downs. It was the first time this season that a linebacker led the Trojans in tackles. Hybrid outer backer Drake Jackson added an interception in coverage in the first half.
That was one of two choices for the Trojans, as Safety Talanoa Hufanga took his second of the season. Isaiah Pola-Mao jumped on a botched transfer by the Utes, and defensive tackle knocking Marlon Tuipulotu out lost another fumble that was recovered by Connor Murphy. Cornerback Chris Steele one last interception as time passed in the fourth quarter.
“There was one point behind in the first half. I said go get the ball and bring it to me. And literally two plays later they are going to make the sales and they run it straight to me, ”said Helton with a proud laugh. “It was so nice to see them play tonight and I thought they were playing for each other.”
Overall, the Trojans gave up just 10 points on an attack (the Utes returned a Kedon Slovis fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter). USC kept Utah at 335 meters in total and closed the Utes in the second half without the home team putting down a third after half time.
Play of defense helped protect some of the battle from offense, which won just 22 yards more than the Utes. Slovis again didn’t look like himself, with two turnovers, including an interception that flew well behind the intended target and another inexplicable transition to triple cover that, thankfully, fell harmlessly to the ground.
“I don’t think I’ve played that well as a whole. I have to perform better, ”said Slovis. “We left a lot of points on the board, mainly because of my game and because I am not disciplined.”
Slovis finished the game 24 of 35 for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. The USC run game was held to 93 yards and 3.0 per carry with lead rusher Markese Stepp in streetwear with an upper body injury.
So it was another imperfect game from USC. But that didn’t matter, as the Trojan defense was victorious, leaving the Trojans unbeaten halfway through this irregular regular season.
“TO really trained these children within the system. It’s a system that’s easy to pick up and now they are thriving in it, ”said Helton. “We got to the point where this is the level we want to play at. Let’s be consistent about it now and take this into next week. ”