Pass defense still an issue

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
4:03
PM PT
Utah is a respectable team and will most likely be competitive in the Pac-12 this year, and USC played fairly well against the Utes for the most part on Saturday in a 23-14 win.

But, with a talented Arizona State team awaiting the Trojans a dozen days from today, USC must improve in one crucial area to beat teams like the Sun Devils: pass defense.

Jordan Wynn, Norm Chow's quarterback at Utah, was clearly not 100 percent or anywhere close to it, really, as Lane Kiffin pointed out after Saturday's game in no uncertain terms. The Utes' DeVonte Christopher lit up the Trojans, too, pulling in 11 grabs for 136 yards. If USC gives up that much to Wynn and Co., what will it do against Brock Osweiler, Aaron Pflugrad and the Sun Devils, who beat Missouri Friday?

Heck, what will the Trojans do this Saturday against visiting Syracuse? Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib has completed 75 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and one interception through two games, a much better opening to the 2011 season than either Wynn or Minnesota's MarQueis Gray have had. And he has two talented senior receivers to pass to, as well.

"That is a concern of ours," Kiffin said Sunday in a rare moment of looking back and forward. "We have to improve. Today, in the team meeting, we worked more on it, but we've also gotta work more on our man-to-man coverage."

Man-to-man coverage, by its nature, goes against what the Kiffins usually like to do on defense. Monte Kiffin popularized the Tampa Two, which involves zone defense. But some of USC's best defensive plays under the Kiffins have come in man-to-man moments, such as Torin Harris' game-saving interception in Week 1.

Indications are more of that will come, maybe even this week against Syracuse so as to try it out for the other upcoming Pac-12 games. Lineup changes might also be in store, Kiffin hinted Sunday.

If there are any changes, they would come at the second and third corners or strong safety spots. T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey still have their positions down pat, but Harris, Tony Burnett and Jawanza Starling have struggled some -- Harris in particular, although he's largely saved himself from public scrutiny with his end-of-game plays the last two weeks.

Kiffin is keeping that in mind as the Trojans' challenges get tougher and tougher in the coming weeks.

"We didn't just play two real premier pass teams," Kiffin said Sunday. "As the stats sort out throughout the year, I don't think you'll see those two teams way up there. But were gonna play some big-time passing opponents here pretty quick, so we've got to improve in the back end.

"We may shake some things up a little at some spots too."

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