Justin Wilcox seeking solutions for USC's defensive woes
LOS ANGELES (AP) Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is under pressure from Southern California fans, certainly more pressure than the No. 19 Trojans were able to put on Stanford's offense.
The Cardinal had 474 yards of total offense, punted just twice and made no turnovers in their 41-31 upset victory over USC at the Coliseum last weekend. Wilcox cited the inability to limit Stanford's run game on first down, failure to wrap up quarterback Kevin Hogan on possible sacks and a lack of opportunities to create takeaways for his defense's struggles.
''Things just started to bleed a little bit,'' Wilcox said Wednesday, his first meeting with the media since the loss. ''We had some critical mistakes on key plays on key drives, and some of the one-on-ones we were about a step away. That was really what it boiled down to after watching the tape.''
Wilcox has become increasingly unpopular among USC fans for a multitude of reasons during the 16 games since he left the University of Washington to follow head coach Steve Sarkisian to Los Angeles.
They cite everything from his passive approach in late losses to Arizona State and Utah last season to personnel usage and a seeming unwillingness to blitz even as the defensive front has struggled to generate a pass rush.
Wilcox understands the uproar from fans who entered this season with aspirations of USC winning the Pac-12 and reaching the College Football Playoff, but he said he has faced similar pressure ''every day I've ever coached college football.''
''For us, it's all we work on,'' Wilcox added. ''It's everything you do 365 days a year, so it is disappointing when you don't go play as well as you think you can play. We need to make corrections.''
Creating takeaways and negative plays are the most glaring issues to be addressed, Wilcox believes.
After coming up with two interceptions and two fumbles against Arkansas State, the defense has now gone two full games without a takeaway. USC's havoc rate - an advanced statistic combining tackles for loss, passes defended and forced fumbles - ranks 115th in the FBS, and the defensive line falls among the bottom four nationally in that category.
Increased playing time for freshman linemen Noah Jefferson, Rasheem Green and Jacob Daniel and outside linebacker Porter Gustin could help remedy those woes, and a better pass rush could create more opportunities for interceptions.
''If there's one quick fix, it would be an easy answer,'' Wilcox said. ''We've got to perform better, and it's really got to be everything.''
Cornerback Kevon Seymour could miss his second straight game with a knee injury this weekend, and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods is questionable with a shoulder injury. The potential absence of two seniors from the starting lineup would not bode well against Arizona State's no-huddle spread offense that the Trojans will face on Saturday.
Despite huddling and operating at a deliberate pace, Stanford was able to create confusion among the USC defense with its precise use of personnel and scheme. Arizona State's use of tempo creates different issues for a defense by cutting down the time to substitute or communicate defensive signals.
''There are certain things we can do to help settle that down, and that means being a little more vanilla so we can play faster,'' Wilcox said. ''There is always give and take in that.''
Wilcox does have support from Sarkisian and USC players. Safety Chris Hawkins praised Wilcox as a ''fantastic'' players' coach and put the blame for the Stanford loss on a lack of execution.
''I feel like all the plays he was calling were the right plays,'' Hawkins said. ''We just didn't make our plays. I feel like they were hungrier than us. It had nothing to do with the coaching. The coaching was just fine.''
AP college football site: www.collegefootball.ap.org