The bye week not only provides teams with much- needed rest, but also provides a break for fans. I spent the majority of Saturday posted up on my couch, watching teams I don’t normally watch, seeing what I could learn. The first game is the one that really caught my eye: Baylor at West Virginia.
Now, I knew that this was going to be a shootout. But 70-63 as the final score? When a team scores 70 points, you don’t normally expect a close game.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdown passes. One of his receivers had 303 yards receiving. Yet the game still came down to a single touchdown.
I hadn’t seen a shootout like that in a while, and didn’t figure I would for some time, either. It was the Big 12; effective defensive play is sparse.
Then the Tennessee-Georgia game came on, and the supposedly stout SEC defenses each gave up 40 points. As I watched the offensive fireworks bolstered by poor defensive efforts, I really started to appreciate the job that USC assistant head coach and defensive guru Monte Kiffin has done.
Kiffin has gotten some flack over the years, and the defense hasn’t necessarily been up to USC standards the last few seasons. USC’s biggest question marks heading into this season dealt with the defense, specifically the defensive line.
But when it comes down to it, considering the feeble defense on display Saturday, Monte has done a pretty good job.
Consider this: The most points the Trojans have given up this season is 29; even in their loss at Stanford, they gave up just 21. They are giving up an average of 17.3 points per game on the season. By comparison, Oregon, the No. 2 team in the entire country, is giving up 19.8 points a contest. Analysts praise Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for the job he is doing for the Ducks, but Kiffin hasn’t gotten near the credit he deserves.
Let’s take a look at some of the top teams in the country and their defenses.
We know Alabama is playing great football, and we’ve discussed Oregon. LSU is giving up 12.6 points per game, South Carolina is giving up just over 11. Kansas State is giving up 15.5, and Notre Dame is giving up nine points per game.
These are among the best teams in the country, and Kiffin’s defense is not that far behind some of these teams. West Virginia? After yesterday’s stellar effort, they are giving up almost 33 points a game; for reference, that is close to what USC scores per game.
When it comes down to it, the Trojans have been a mild disappointment thus far in the young season. They were supposed to be undefeated, and weren’t really supposed to be tested until the Oregon game on Nov. 3.
A lot of people have blamed the team’s slow start on a lack of pass protection and a general lack of offensive production. But more often that not, the finger gets pointed at the defense.
Watching a handful of games yesterday, I saw some of the best teams in the country giving up 30, 40 and 60 points. National-title-contending defenses? Hardly.
This weekend made me optimistic for USC’s chances. We probably won’t see the Trojans give up 63 points in a win, because the odds of them putting up more than that are kind of slim. Kiffin himself said West Virginia stats are tough to achieve.
But the fact of the matter is that the USC defense is too good to give up that many points. They are too disciplined, have too much pride and are too well-coached. They might not win the rest of the games on their schedule, but it won’t be because they are giving up 40 points to mediocre teams a lá West Virginia or Georgia.
No, this weekend allowed me to sit back and respect the job that Kiffin has done. Seventeen points a game allowed is pretty good, considering the Trojans have played three of those games on the road.
They aren’t going to blow you away with stats, and they’ll probably end up giving up closer to 20 points a game by season’s end. But I take solace in knowing that Kiffin’s stout defense that can stop the run and get the ball back for Barkley and Co.
Monte and the Trojans have a defense that is holding up its end of the deal; shootouts are unlikely, except for maybe the Oregon game. And watching yesterday’s games made me appreciate the fact that I likely won’t have to watch many offensive shootouts.
The Trojans will undoubtedly play some close games, but it won’t be of the West Virginia-Baylor variety. And for that, I am thankful; my heart can’t take that sort of stress, anyway.
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