Last year, it was supposed to be the best unit on the field. That turned out to be very wrong.
But maybe it was just a year premature. Because this season, after a myriad of struggles in 2010, the less-hyped USC defensive line is proving to be the Trojans' most dominant unit and a game-changer on a weekly basis. For the second straight game Saturday against Utah, the USC front four set the tone for the entire defense with constant pressure on the Utes' Jordan Wynn and tough run-game coverage throughout.
There were only two sacks, sure, but Wynn had to have been pressured on at least 20 of his 46 dropbacks. And running back John White IV finished the game with just 56 yards on 20 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per carry. The numbers were there, and even more evident was the way Utah played to avoid the D-line. These Trojans can change games.
"They know that we're coming," defensive end Nick Perry said after Saturday's game, in which he finished with five tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. "There's no doubt about it. We're a great defense and we're gonna come out and play our butts off every game."
USC's other defensive units have also been improved over last season through two games, but not like this. And the D-line's play has essentially allowed the linebackers and defensive backs a mulligan or two each game, allowing big plays to come to them, in a way.
An example: Yes, Dion Bailey made an impressive open-field tackle on Utah's fake punt in the second half, but there was a reason Bailey was so wide open and able to tackle the Utes' Ryan Lacy in the free and clear. All of Utah's blockers were occupied taking care of the Trojans' front four.
USC started a line of Perry, Christian Tupou, DaJohn Harris and Devon Kennard Saturday and shuffled in Wes Horton and George Uko regularly, too. All six players produced.
"Causing pressure shakes up the quarterback to give our secondary a chance to take shots at receivers and make big-time plays," Perry said Saturday. "The pressure was on.
"I think we did a great job. There's still things we have to fix, obviously, but we're gonna come back ready to go for next week."