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USC seeks answers for struggling run defense

By in Press Enterprise on October 26, 2017

By Joey Kaufman

LOS ANGELES — If not for injuries, freshman Brandon Pili would have redshirted during his first fall on campus.

“We weren’t expecting to have to use him this year,” Clancy Pendergast, the Trojans’ defensive coordinator, said Wednesday.

Instead, Pili started at nose tackle in USC’s humbling loss at Notre Dame four days earlier and was left in for almost two-thirds of the total snaps, serving as the only remaining scholarship player at the position.

It was an indication of a banged-up defense, as much as the state of a thinning defensive line.

Pili ascended up the depth chart this month out of necessity, when starting nose tackle Josh Fatu was sidelined with a concussion, along with other developments. Fatu’s return for this week at Arizona State is uncertain. He has not practiced. Moreover, freshman Marlon Tuipulotu underwent season-ending back surgery and senior Kenny Bigelow left the team to move into a coaching role.

The advantaged tilted toward the Fighting Irish, buoyed by a veteran-laden offensive line, that ran over USC.

Notre Dame finished with 377 rushing yards, the most the Trojans had allowed in a game under Coach Clay Helton, who took over as interim coach midway through the 2015 season. Only once in that span, had USC surrendered 300 or more yards on the ground — it gave up 302 rushing yards to a Christian McCaffrey-led Stanford running game in last season’s Pac-12 opener.

“Obviously, it wasn’t what we wanted,” Pendergast said. “It needs to be much better.”

Many acknowledged depth concerns, but USC’s coaches and players pointed to other lingering issues when asked about a struggling run defense.

Pendergast said the Trojans were physically overmatched against Notre Dame, lost gap integrity and struggled with other missed assignments.

Defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze offered a similar assessment, mentioning missed assignments at several points.

“In my own opinion, the details in […]    

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