Monte Kiffin is a great defensive coordinator — that was never a question.
Supporters of his questioned if the former Trojans DC had enough time with players throughout the week for them to really grasp concepts of his system.
Per NCAA rules, student athletes are only allowed to spend 20 hours per week on football-related activities.
There was a sophistication about Kiffin’s defensive concepts that made it tough to translate to the collegiate level.
Clancy Pendergast’s 5-2 scheme is a 180 of that.
Safety Dion Bailey, who missed all of spring practice, said he had the defense down before he even took his first reps in fall camp.
Countless defensive players have talked about being able to play faster defensively because they’re not thinking as much.
So far, so good.
Going back to the spring, USC’s defense has been fast, tough, physical, and very aggressive.
Hayes Pullard and Devon Kennard have led the charge as emotional leaders. In a new role, Kennard seems primed to have his best season ever as a Trojan at a more natural position for him as a standup end/linebacker. USC coach Lane Kiffin has raved about defensive lineman George Uko, as well.
“This whole group’s been very diligent about what we’ve asked them to do and they’ve all gotten better with the techniques,” Pendergast said.
Simplicity has made the transition smooth.
Importance of Pendergast
The game of college football has changed with the advancement of spread offenses. Not only did USC have issues trying to slow down such offenses but most times didn’t stand a fighting chance with the scheme played under Monte Kiffin. In Pendergast, they have at least that much. His defense gives plenty of flexibility with multiple interchangeable parts. At Cal, he led the conference’s No. 1 defense in two of the last three seasons. Pendergast also doubles as the secondary coach and cornerback is the biggest question mark in this unit.
Number of note: 730
The Trojans scored 51 points last season at home against Oregon and lost — the Ducks netted 62 points and racked up 730 yards. That seemed to be the end for the elder Kiffin as defensive coordinator. It was the most points, yards, touchdowns (9), and PATs (8) USC had ever given up, ever. The elder Kiffin famously said at the time he “never heard of that many yards” and it was “mind—boggling.”
USC ranked 60th in the country defensively last season. The Trojans have yet to finish higher than 54th nationally in the Kiffin era — they were 69th in the country last season against the run and 52nd against the pass, allowing opposing teams to complete 60.4 percent of their passes.
“We’re actually pretty fortunate that we changed to a scheme that actually fits our personnel,” Kiffin said.
“We’re not going to play slow,” Pendergast said. “We’re going to let those guys loose a little bit.”
The pieces seem to be in place for the USC defense to have quite a turnaround from a season ago when they finished seventh in the conference in total defense and gave up over 5,000 yards. If what Kennard has shown in fall camp is any indication of the type of year he could have, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he’s in conversations for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year by season’s end. Pendergast may not be able to turn this group into the No. 1 defense in the conference like he did at Cal but they should make a considerable jump finishing the season as a top-five defense in the conference and a top-45 defense nationally.