USC Trojans D-line must stand tall at Stanford

USC Trojans defense will have its hands full at Stanford.

NCAA Football: Fresno State at Southern California

Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) and defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (99) pose after the game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

(C+P) — Can the depth along USC’s defensive line hold up against Stanford?  Ultimately that matchup will prove to be the difference maker between the two top-15 squads.

Even though USC won convincingly by a score of 52-13 against Fresno State last Saturday, USC was not impressive with their run defense.

Southern California Trojans defensive tackle Claude Pelon (90) celebrates with linebacker Anthony Sarao (58) against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Fresno State 52-13. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Southern California Trojans defensive tackle Claude Pelon (90) celebrates with linebacker Anthony Sarao (58) against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. USC defeated Fresno State 52-13. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

USC defense ranked 15th in the nation last season, allowing an average of 120 yards per game on the ground.

The unit allowed 157 rushing yards to Fresno State, a WAC squad that does not have the superior athletes along the offensive line, and talent at tailback compared to Stanford.

USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who came to the Trojans last December, might have been playing a ‘vanilla’ defense against Fresno State, however.  So don’t hold your breath if you are a USC fan.

But fans might be holding their breath over whether or not USC’s captain and pre-season All-American Leonard Williams can even play. The defensive end rolled his ankle during Tuesday’s practice and was unable to practice the following day.

Williams was not in a boot during Wednesday’s practice, however.

In addition, USC’s head coach Steve Sarkisian did say the 6-5, 300-pounder would play against the Cardinal.

Even with that positive note, the junior might not be able to play up to his full potential against Stanford’s big men up front.

But let’s remember, Williams was dealing with a nagging shoulder injury during almost all of last season, and was still a first team All-American for many media outlets. Williams finished second on the team with 74 tackles, including a team-high 13.5 for losses.

That injury to Williams is a reason why depth along the line is an issue heading into the rematch.  USC lost redshirt freshmen Kenny Bigelow to a season-ending ACL injury during player-only summer workouts.

Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) reacts against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) reacts against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

With that depletion along the line, and Williams’ status up in the air, it’s a concern if USC’s defensive linemen can get a push against Stanford.

The run game has been Stanford’s ‘bread and butter’ since David Shaw took over as head coach back in 2011.  The program has produced a 1,000-yard rusher each of the past three seasons.

Now if USC gets back to its old self, and does not allow Stanford to get comfortable in the run game, the Trojans have a better chance of winning.

Even though Stanford rushed for 210 yards in its 20-17 upset loss to the Trojans last season, USC’s defense still did enough to make Stanford’s quarterback Kevin Hogan beat them with his arm.

Hogan was not comfortable at times in the pocket, which hindered his ability to distribute the ball to Ty Montgomery, Stanford’s leading receiver from last season.  The senior would finish the game with only 23 receiving yards on four receptions.

Hogan would throw a critical interception late in the fourth quarter as that turnover allowed USC to make a late field goal, and secure the upset.

Williams and the defensive line should still have the upper hand against the Cardinal’s offensive line, as Stanford has to replace four starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad.

But if William’s injury makes him ineffective, it makes it any team’s ball game.

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