Forgive the USC defense if it has seemed underwhelmed by opposing
offenses this season. After all, it's hard to impress a bunch of
guys who practice against the unit that torched the 14th-ranked
Notre Dame defense for 551 yards in a 45-14 win at South Bend
last Saturday. True, Irish running back Julius Jones carried the
ball six times for 68 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter,
but over the remaining three USC allowed him just 16 yards on 12
attempts. "I think we came out a little too juiced up," said
Trojans junior defensive tackle Shaun Cody. "We were flying
around and overpursuing him. Once we got settled down, we took
Led by a dominant line, USC is ninth in the nation against the
rush. Coach Pete Carroll has modeled his defensive scheme on the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fast, opportunistic system, which is run by
his friend Monte Kiffin. USC's front four--Cody, tackle Michael
Patterson and ends Omar Nazel and Kenechi Udeze--are all small
but quick and specialize in backfield disruption. Patterson, a
6-foot, 285-pound junior who's second on the team with five
sacks, is nicknamed Baby Sapp. "He's real fast off the ball, and
that's what I try to be," Patterson says. The four linemen have
combined for 19 1/2 of the Trojans' Pac-10-leading 28 sacks.
"There's not just one guy to focus on, and that's a real good
thing for us," says Carroll.
The Tampa Bay West approach has created a unit that flies to the
ball from anywhere on the field. The Trojans' defense has forced
22 turnovers, sixth-most in the nation; among those are a
team-high three interceptions by senior corner Will Poole.
Sophomore middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who sat out last year
after transferring from Maine, has surprised his coaches by
becoming the team leader in tackles, with 47. "It's ironic that
the system's built on speed, since I'm only fast side to side,"
says Tatupu, the son of former Trojans fullback and NFL All-Pro
A 34-31 loss to Cal four weeks ago leaves USC ranked seventh in
the BCS standings and behind Washington State in the Pac-10. But
while the Trojans don't have their fate entirely in their hands,
they do have hope. "I don't care where we are in the polls," says
Carroll. "I just want to keep winning."