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USC Football Fall Notebook: Trojans Defense Looks To Improve Early-Season Play

James Santelli, Scott Enyeart |
August 29, 2012 | 3:33 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporters

McDonald (No. 7) and the USC D were not satisfied with last September's performance. (James Santelli/NT)
McDonald (No. 7) and the USC D were not satisfied with last September's performance. (James Santelli/NT)

It was a September without ice cream for the 2011 USC football defense.

"We get ice cream in the hotel if we win the turnover battle," free safety T.J. McDonald told reporters after the team's Oct. 1 win over Arizona. That was the first game last season the Trojans received their sweet reward.

Over the first five games of 2011, the Trojans allowed an average of 26.4 points per game (in regulation), before they turned it around with an average of 18.4 points allowed per game the rest of the way.

"We can't wait four or five games like we did last year to get going," linebacker Dion Bailey said following Wednesday's practice. "Everybody needs to come off assignment and alignment perfect."

For head coach Lane Kiffin, perfection has not yet been achieved. He laid out what he still needs to see from his team.

"That we're not repeating plays, things are really crisp, personnels are going in and out, they know their assignments from A to Z," Kiffin said. "We're not there yet."

McDonald realizes his defense needs to be crisp right away.

"It's very important, not just for a secondary individually or for individual guys, but just for the confidence of our whole defense," McDonald said. "You [have to] know that you've got the back end protected, you can stop the run."

As for winning the turnover battle and the ice cream? McDonald wants to make it happen himself against a pass-happy Hawai'i offense.

"Just knowing that the ball is going to be in the air, flying around. I'm gonna fly around," McDonald said. "Hopefully I can make some plays on the ball."


The first task for the defensive unit of the nation's No. 1 team will be to shut down an opponent they know well: head coach Norm Chow and his Hawai'i Warriors. Kiffin recognizes Chow's role as a mentor for him and Steve Sarkisian while coaching at USC.

"I spent a lot of time with him, a lot of nights in old Heritage [Hall]," Kiffin said. "Obviously one of the greatest minds to ever coach college football. Somehow we just continue to follow him around. We have played him about six times now."

Kiffin knows Chow and his strategies well, but the reverse is true too.

"We've been exposed to him a lot. But he's also been exposed to us too. So any time you play somebody, it works both ways."

The other dose of familiarity is Chow's pro-set offense, replacing the usual four-wide-receiver sets of past Hawai'i coaches, which is comparable to the style of USC's offense.

"It helps a lot that we are practice against our offense, and it's very similar to theirs," Bailey said. "So we're getting a lot of reps against plays and formations and things that we're going to see on Saturday."


Bailey was a first-team Freshman All-America and Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. Despite the accolades, Bailey said he is not content with how he played last year.

"I have to keep progressing, get better in every aspect of the game," Bailey said. "If you're staying consistent or you're getting worse, you're not making [any] money. And we're all playing this game to make it to the next level."


Kiffin clarified his quotes in ESPN: The Magazine that style of play is "not a distant second" to winning. The head coach said the comments were related to drawing attendance and buzz in Los Angeles.

"L.A. is a town that isn't real fired up about winning games 14-10 and showing up," Kiffin said. "You've got a lot of different people. There is a showtime element to it. There's a style factor to it."

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