Trojans defense can't rest

The USC defense, a step behind against Arizona and Oregon, faces fresh challenges ahead. Matt Kartozian/US Presswire

LOS ANGELES -- It has been well documented that the Trojans defense has given up more than 1,300 yards of offense in the past two games, a record-breaking stat that is sobering for USC fans, to say the least.

This is a USC program that is used to putting tough and physical defenses on the field, a program with a history that includes the likes of Ronnie Lott, Chris Claiborne and the Wild Bunch. To see Arizona and Oregon have so much success had to be a hard pill to swallow for those defensive stalwarts and all the others who have worn the Cardinal and Gold in the past.

There will be much discussion in the offseason about the future plans for the defense and how best to cure the problems, but that doesn't solve the issues that remain in the coming weeks. The Trojans still have some formidable defensive challenges awaiting them -- including another variation on the spread offense this weekend against Arizona State -- and there is no quick fix on the horizon.

"You can't make major, major changes in-season, that never works," said USC coach Lane Kiffin when asked about the possibility of defensive changes. "It's a fair observation to say we've struggled against spread offenses. We have to look at all areas, because if we're going to give up numbers that have never been seen before, it's got to be a collection of a number of things. We've looked at a lot of things to try and figure it out."

This weekend will feature the new-look Sun Devils under first-year coach Todd Graham, who has ASU ranked in the top 25 nationally in both passing efficiency and scoring offense. The week after that will be the annual cross-city rivalry with UCLA, and the Bruins have established a solid run-game foundation behind Johnathan Franklin, who became the all-time rushing leader for the Bruins last week.

Those two opponents will decide the Trojans' fate in terms of the Pac-12 title game, but they won't be the final regular-season hurdle for the USC defense. The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will bring a spread offense and, possibly, an undefeated record into the Coliseum at the end of the month. If the Trojans should somehow navigate all that, a potential rematch with the Oregon Ducks could await.

Thomas Williams played linebacker at USC from 2004-2007, and he said the important thing right now for the Trojans defense is to remember what is still in front of them.

"The No. 1 thing I would tell the team right now is not to panic," Williams said. "Is it unfortunate that the team has lost in that fashion these last two games? Yes, but they still have the amazing opportunity to hold their destiny in their own hands regarding the Rose Bowl.

"Look at what happened this week with the Washington Redskins, where the coach basically hit the panic button. The Trojans can't do that. They need to look at it as a glass-half-full situation. Consider it a blessing in disguise that they might get a rematch with Oregon, because that would give them a chance to fix their holes and get another shot at the Ducks in the conference title game."

Before a rematch can be discussed, the Trojans will need to deal with the Sun Devils and the Bruins, and you can be sure those two coaching staffs were poring over the film from the last two USC games to see what was working so well for the opposing offenses. It will be up to the Trojans defense to respond accordingly if the team wants to finish the season on a strong note.