In Saturday’s 24-14 victory at Washington, No. 10 USC’s defense shined bright.
Though the offense struggled, the defense held strong and forced four Husky turnovers. Things could have gotten ugly, however, when junior cornerback Torin Harris went down with a reported concussion and did not return to the game.
The cornerback spot opposite junior Nickell Robey has been a question mark the entire season, and Harris’ injury didn’t help depth at the position. Moreover, freshman Kevon Seymour, who had been rotating the most with Harris, made the trip to Seattle, but did not suit up for unspecified reasons.
But the defense’s biggest — and perhaps only — question mark might have been resolved Saturday, as sophomore Josh Shaw stepped in and played admirably. Shaw, a transfer from Florida, had practiced at cornerback intermittently the week before but had not seen significant playing time on defense before the Washington game.
Shaw, who has mostly practiced at safety, drew the praise of coach Lane Kiffin for his performance against Washington.
“I thought Josh did good, really,” Kiffin said. “To go in that fast at corner … that wasn’t the plan. He got forced into there by people coming out.”
Shaw has had a bumpy road to USC. He began his career at Florida after a standout career at Palmdale High School in Palmdale, Calif. A high school All-American, rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, Shaw went to play for the Florida Gators but was injured early in his freshman season. He came back strong his next season on campus and had 22 tackles and played in 10 games.
Shaw decided to transfer to USC, however, to be closer to an ailing family member. And luckily for him, he was granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA, allowing him to play without sitting out a season, per normal transfer rules.
Despite his experience in the SEC, he was listed as a third-string safety on the depth chart in advance of USC’s game against Washington, mostly because of USC’s abundance of players at the position.
A permanent move to cornerback might allow him to see the field more often.
“I knew coming into this week I was going to end up having my opportunity to play,” Shaw said after the Washington game. “So I was just ready in all cases … whether I was going to go in at safety or corner. I came out here and I just wanted to help our team win.”
Compared to Harris, who was beaten for a touchdown earlier in the game, Shaw didn’t give up any points and went largely untested.
He even recorded an interception toward the end of the contest, catching a tipped pass when Washington quarterback Keith Price had the chance to narrow the Trojans’ 10-point gap.
“The guy dropped the ball and I just dove for it and made a play on it,” Shaw said.
Despite not playing significant minutes in any game up to this point, and mostly appearing on special teams, Shaw indicated that fatigue and rust did not affect him.
“It wasn’t really difficult,” Shaw explained. “I have great players on the side of the ball with me. I have T.J. [McDonald] back there, Jawanza [Starling], so they make it a lot easier for me.”
The defense was tested against Washington, as senior quarterback Matt Barkley and the offense failed to score any points in the second half. The Trojans were repeatedly tested in the passing game, but held strong due in large part to strong play from the secondary.
Harris’ status is unknown at this point, as USC’s injury policy prevents Kiffin from commenting on injuries.
Regardless, it is likely that Shaw will play a part in the Trojans’ defensive game plan the rest of the season because of his strong play Saturday, even though Kiffin, in Sunday’s conference call, would not fully commit to him as the starter in the spot going forward.
Perhaps more importantly, Shaw was pleased with his effort overall and praised the defense’s perseverance.
“What really happened was we bent but we didn’t break,” Shaw said. “Whenever that happens, I think that’s a win for us.”