The defensive line of the USC Trojans has been a strength, despite entering the season as perhaps the weakest and most inexperienced area of the team. A pair of newcomers have led the way by wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
"Young" and "inexperienced" were terms defining a line that featured the departure of four seniors last year. Defensive tackle George Uko was the most polished of the 2012 bunch, but he’s not the best lineman at his position.
As punishing Uko can be, with flashes of great power and speed in an instant, he is overshadowed by junior defensive end Morgan Breslin.
Breslin was behind Devon Kennard in the depth chart before Kennard tore his chest muscle because of weight training. After four weeks Breslin is easily USC’s best lineman, and it’s not even close.
For the season, Breslin has 9.5 tackles for losses, tops in the nation. Only three players in the past four seasons have achieved a tackles for loss total of more than nine: Nick Perry (twice), Michael Morgan (2009), and Jurrell Casey (2010). With the way Breslin has been playing, he could eclipse Perry’s 2011 tackles for loss total of 13 by the next game.
Breslin was originally committed to the UCLA Bruins before USC snagged him around the end of the 2012 recruiting period, and that robbery has paid dividends for the Trojans. Originally the sack master at Diablo Valley Community College in Pleasant Valley, Calif., Breslin has translated his game to the college level fairly quickly and easily. He penetrates the offensive line with a high motor and never quits a play.
Breslin had 3½ sacks in the Trojans' 27--9 win over the Cal Bears on Saturday.
True freshman Leonard Williams is also having a phenomenal start to his season. Originally from Tampa, Fla., Williams was committed to the Florida Gators before spurning them to decide to enroll at USC on Signing Day earlier this year. The true freshman has four sacks under his belt and his change of position from defensive end to tackle seems genius.
With Wes Horton healthy and playing at a high level (he achieved a sack against Cal on Saturday), USC’s line may be their greatest strength on defense.
They have not seen this kind of dominant play from the defensive line in years. Per cfbstats.com, the USC Trojans currently average 8.25 tackles for losses a game and 3.5 sacks per game, production not seen since 2007, when the Trojans averaged 3.46 sacks a game and 7.46 tackles for losses. This "young" and "inexperienced" line have comfortably passed expectations.
As tremendous as the start of the season has been for the defensive line, we won’t get used to seeing this high level of play for much longer. USC will face stronger offensive lines and teams will have to adapt to USC’s front four sometime.
But make no mistake about it, coach Ed Orgeron has done more than a solid job of teaching the young linemen how to puncture an offensive line. Maybe this year’s line will be the "Wild Bunch" of the present.
For more on USC football, be sure to read Conquest Chronicles.