Defensive-dominated, once again

Hopefully Monte Kiffin just mixed up his words.

That, or the legendary defensive mind and USC assistant coach thinks the Trojans have a lot of ground left to make up this offseason.

In discussing what he felt to be the improvements his team made over the offseason, Kiffin made reference to a bit of European history.

"The name of the game is still hustle, getting to the ball and things like that. We’re tackling better because we’ve worked on it more in practice," said the 71-year-old Kiffin, now in his second year with the Trojans. "It’s showing up right now, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.

"We’re not the Iron Curtain yet, that’s for sure."

That is very much for sure. The Iron Curtain was a 45-year ideological boundary between Western and Eastern Europe created in the wake of World War II. What Kiffin was probably referring to, the Steel Curtain, was nothing war-related but rather the nickname of the vaunted mid-1970s Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line that won four Super Bowls under coach Chuck Noll.

Yeah, the Trojans still have a long way before they catch up to those guys too, but Saturday's performance in the Spring Game was a start. In an offense vs. defense battle, the White defensive team beat the Cardinal offensive team, 42-29, behind three forced turnovers and nine stops.

Turnovers were worth five points in USC's modified scoring system for the game, stops three. The White squad led by 26 at the end of three quarters before the offense made a run in the final period on two scoring plays from Dillon Baxter, an eight-yard run followed by a three-yard pass to quarterback-turned-receiver Matt Barkley.

Junior defensive end Nick Perry shined, recording six tackles and two sacks. Linebacker Dallas Kelley (eight tackles) and cornerbacks Brian Baucham and Anthony Brown each recorded interceptions, while safety Jawanza Starling led all players with nine tackles, including one for a two-yard loss.

The offensive struggles are part of the story, sure, with an entirely inexperienced offensive line more than a bit responsible for some of the perceived defensive dominance. But there also appears to be more of a playmaking nature present within some of the defensive stars, like safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey.

"The biggest thing is that we’re a year better," said McDonald, who wore a 'C' patch on his uniform during Saturday's game and came out to midfield for the coin toss. "We know what we’re doing, we know what the coaches expect, so we can make plays. It builds confidence when you know what you’re doing and it really slows the game down.

"The game has slowed down not just for me but for the whole defense. We’re playing a lot faster."