By Eric Lambkins II
Culver City Observer 

Trojan defense leaves much to be revealed

 

September 7, 2023

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Freshman Zachariah Branch breaks a tackle on a 25-yard TD pass from Caleb Williams.

The heart and soul of USC came alive as students, alumni, and passionate fans gathered at the iconic Los Angeles Coliseum. An air of anticipation permeated the atmosphere, a collective hope that the Trojans would rise triumphantly against San José State in last Saturday's season opener.

The Coliseum buzzed with the chatter of eager supporters, the aroma of sizzling food wafting from tailgate grills mingling with the cold drinks. But as the Trojan defense took to the field, it was clear that optimism alone could not fuel their fire.

With championship aspirations, the Trojans' offense is their shield and sword. While Caleb Williams stood at the helm, it was evident that the challenges ahead required more than just one exceptional player. The offensive unit stood firm, like characters from a blockbuster film, while the defense, in comparison, appeared to fade into the background, lackluster and forgotten.

In the quest to rebuild and fortify, the Trojans underwent a transformation on defense. Names like Mason Cobb and Bear Alexander were added to the roster, symbols of change and growth. Yet, the scene that unfolded was oddly familiar, a continuation of past struggles that had haunted the team. "I thought they would look better," one fan intimated. "Where's the improvement from the last game? "We still can't contain mobile quarterbacks," another lamented.

The final score read 56-28 in favor of USC, but the shadow of the past still lingered over the Trojans' defense. Memories of the Cotton Bowl against Tulane echoed when the Trojans' defense bounced off the Green Wave ball carriers as if their pads were doused with flubber. Against the Spartans, USC defenders left fans flummoxed and flabbergasted with their lack of tackling.

Throughout the off-season, echoes of "Tulane" reverberated through practice, a haunting reminder of past shortcomings. The echoes carried the weight of disappointment when the Trojans fell just shy of victory, an offense that fought valiantly and a defense that seemed helpless to stem the tide.

Amid scrutiny, Bill Plaschke of the LA Times questioned Lincoln Riley, the head coach, about the defensive performance. "Here we go, everybody's gonna write the narrative after the first game," Riley said. "Listen, it's gonna be a climb." Riley's response carried a hint of exasperation, a reminder that growth is a journey.

Yet, the intricacies of the defensive scheme, orchestrated by Alex Grinch, were dissected by critics. Moments of brilliance were clouded by questionable choices. A blitz on a third and long turned disastrous, leading to a touchdown. The Trojan defense is a tangled web of complexity, a defensive approach that needs to be clearer for the players to fully grasp.

The halftime whistle blew, and with it came the realization that glaring and subtle mistakes had taken their toll. An inverted Cover-2 call resulted in a touchdown, a play that bore the hallmarks of confusion rather than strategy. It is moments like this that Grinch's leadership is scrutinized, moments that reveal the fragility beneath the surface.

As the journey continues, the spotlight turns to Riley. Loyalty to Grinch is a double-edged sword that could determine the Trojans' fate. In a landscape where turnovers can tip the balance, there's a demand for improved game management and leadership. The season ahead will test Riley's resolve, a challenge to transform potential into tangible results.

The Trojans grapple with uncertainty in this realm of grit and competition, where success and disappointment intertwine. The defense's path ahead remains uncertain, a puzzle with pieces that may take time to fall into place. Yet, within the echoes of criticism lies the opportunity for growth, a chance to evolve and prove that championships are born from perseverance, strategy, and the unwavering support of a dedicated fan base.

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Zachariah Branch celebrates his 96-yard kick-off return for a touchdown.

The good news is USC won the game against a good San Jose State team and the defense gets another opportunity against the University of Nevada on Saturday at the Memorial Coliseum at 3:30 p.m. On Saturday, September 9, the Trojans play Stanford in their first Pac-12 game of the year. That game will also be at the Coliseum.

Against San Jose the Trojans discovered a new star in all-purpose receiver and kick returner freshman Zachariah Branch from Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas. Branch electrified the crowd with his speed and moves. He returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, he returned three punts for 66 yards, he caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran the ball once for 12 yards.

USC's returning Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Caleb Williams completed 18 out of 25 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns.

 

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