For the fourth time in four spring practices, USC’s defense exerted its superiority over the offense. The Matt Barkley-led unit consistently had trouble gaining yards against its defensive counterpart, with many passes falling to the turf and few, if any, big runs out of the backfield.
“The gap’s closing,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “But I think the defense is still a little bit ahead. It doesn’t help not having Robert [Woods], George [Farmer] and Khaled [Holmes] out there.”
Granted, the Trojans’ offense is not at full strength. In addition to those three starters, redshirt freshman running back Buck Allen did not practice, as well as redshirt tight ends Xavier Grimble (junior) and Junior Pomee (sophomore).
Moreover, this is only spring practice, a time where defenses across the country hold the advantage over their offensive opponents because of the reactionary nature of that side of the ball. During March and April, offenses are still getting their timing and schemes down, while the defense can rely more on athleticism and instinct.
Still, there is something to be said about the defense thus far. This is still a USC offense that, although a bit banged up, features eight returning starters, excluding those not practicing because of injuries and including All-Americans Barkley and sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee.
And it’s not as if the defense has not had its share of injuries either: sophomore linebacker Dion Bailey sat out with a hamstring injury, while sophomore safety Josh Shaw, a transfer from Florida, missed practice again because of a rib injury.
The amount of hype placed on the offense since the end of last season has bordered on excessive, yet still seems deserved. But the Trojans’ defense is happily winning the spring battle while slipping under the radar.
“The offense gets the hype, but we take pride in our defense,” senior defensive end Devon Kennard said. “We have to keep improving, but we’re looking good so far.”
The defense has shifted one of its players over to the offense to give it an extra boost. Day two of the Tre Madden running back experiment was a success, with the sophomore able to use his size and strength to burst through holes.
“He’s an exciting prospect to have there,” Kiffin said. “He has natural instincts and really good ball skills. It’s going to be about learning our system and ball security since he hasn’t been used to carrying the ball in a while.”
Madden said running with the ball is not foreign to him.
“I played quarterback in high school, so it’s not a shock to have the ball in my hands,” Madden said.
Perhaps Madden’s switch will spark the offense. If not, then the defense will enjoy its success while it can, because the amount of offensive talent on the field and on the sideline suggests that it won’t be contained for long.