Inside USC’s quest to build a championship-caliber lineup around its
Paolo Uggetti, ESPNAug 25, 2023, 07:00 AM ET THE HOME TEAM locker room at AT&T Arena was peaceful. At first, no words were spoken, no music played from the speakers. In spite of an 11-win season after a 4-8 year, there was no space for celebration. As pads came off USC players’ shoulders for the last time in the 2022-23 season, tears surfaced.The Trojans had actually been up by 15 points with less than five minutes left in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic however, with victory well within their grasp, they permitted Tulane to craft a stunning resurgence to win the New Year’s 6 bowl, clouding USC’s amazing turnaround season.”It was heart-wrenching,”nickelback Jaylin Smith said.”To work so difficult for an opportunity like this and to come up short. There were a great deal of tears therein. “When coach Lincoln Riley lastly entered the
room and spoke to the players on hand, he had a basic message.” Remember this feeling.”For players like Smith, who remembered Riley’s words from that night, that sensation is vibrant. But over the previous 8 months, the feeling has developed from being a hollow dissatisfaction to an inspirational fuel that USC hopes will specify a season with a much better ending.”We reduced at the end of the season,”said center Justin Dedich, who chose to return to USC for one more season.” The motto this year is the longer it goes, the better we get. “As USC readies itself for several years 2 of the Riley era, starting Saturday versus San Jose State, the job at hand is various from turning around a 4-8 season. After losing to Utah in the Pac-12 championship, missing a shot at the College Football Playoff and having its greatest weak point– an inconsistent defense– on complete display screen, expectations have just grown. USC is ranked 6th in the AP preseason poll– and questions around the Trojans’ defense have just gotten louder.With a Heisman-winning quarterback in tow, a slew of returning beginners and skilled transfer additions, there’s lots of pressure surrounding the group in its last season as part of the Pac-12. A year into their tenure, Riley & Co. head into the 2023 project trying to harness brand-new skill, connection and improvement into not just a cohesive group but a championship-caliber one that won’t lose once again. “I think that’s ultimately been everyone’s motivation, “Smith stated.”If you remained in that locker space after Tulane, you know the feeling, and I think everybody that remained in there, they get the feeling, and they are encouraged to never feel that way once again.” Alex Grinch examined game and practice film to get a better feel for
what the USC defense needed to enhance on. Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire ALEX GRINCH DID something this offseason that he hadn’t done in his whole coaching career. As he began the procedure of taking stock of his first season as the Trojans ‘defensive coordinator, Grinch understood going back and examining game film wasn’t going to suffice. He required to go back and watch film of USC’s practices, too.”It provides a little bit of insight maybe why you didn’t do certain things. It once again takes some discipline, and
you got to dupe some Band-Aids to do a few of those things,”Grinch said. “For example, completing football. If you can’t create on Tuesday and Wednesday 2 hours of practice structure and searching, it’s going to be really tough to put 60 minutes in [on Saturdays]”Grinch studied the movie and after that, a couple of months back, brought in some of the team’s protective leaders to evaluate it also. It
proved illuminating, as coaches and players saw how some things the system was doing at the start of the year dissipated throughout the season.” Being able to look back and state,’This was helping us,’or ‘We type of avoided this, and it began to injure us,'” linebacker Shane Lee stated.”It can certainly be a tool if you use it right.”Editor’s Picks 2 Associated Grinch, whose seat warmed after the loss to Tulane, hasn’t shied away from the truths: Last season, USC’s defense was near the bottom
of the FBS in nearly every statistical classification other than for turnovers forced(sixth in the nation). It enabled 27 plays of 20 lawns or more, 13 plays of 30 backyards or more, 8 plays of 40 yards or more, and four plays of 50 backyards or more– numbers that all ranked in the bottom 30 defenses in the country.Talk to any player on the USC defense and a stream of honest acknowledgements surface area when going over in 2015’s performance. There’s little sugarcoating or eluding– they all understand it wasn’t sufficient.”We don’t really look at rankings, however the rankings show that we weren’t the best we might be,”Smith said.”It was annoying.”According to the junior safety, strength coach Benny Wylie invested the summertime stressing those rankings to the defense, advising them throughout exercises of, for example, how many points USC’s defense gave up in the 4th quarter. The answer was approximately 10.4 points per 4th quarter– 128th in the country.” We wish to be an effort-based defense, a quick defense, playing totally free and having fun with an edge, something we missed last year, “redshirt senior Bryson Shaw said.”There was a certain type of competitive vibe to us that we were missing out on. “It wasn’t simply the players.
Grinch said he spent the offseason canceling attempting to gain from what worked and didn’t work for in 2015’s team while likewise reminding himself that it still helped USC win 11 games and, most notably, that he could not approach this season as if he were attempting to coach
last season’s system. “Everything is clearly on the table moving on, however the big-picture stuff in terms of who you wish to be and what you wish to be. Did we prosper in that in Year 1? No, however that piece doesn’t alter, “Grinch stated.”What you’re searching for is the concrete piece. The truth is we now need to make sure we play more physically, play quicker. … All those things need to move the needle.”If there wasn’t enough pressure heading into Year 1, there certainly is now. And if the early part of this season shows similar struggles, those negatives will linger. Grinch recognizes that, and, as he put it, he can’t battle narratives. Last month, when a press reporter asked him how he felt about the perception that he is training for his task this season, Grinch didn’t flinch. “I think 21 years in business, I imply, I think you’re coaching for your job all the time,” Grinch stated.”I think pressure features it. I consider whether it’s Missouri or Washington State or Ohio State or Oklahoma, I do not believe I feel any different than I have in any of those years. There’s a great deal of pressure.
“Regardless of the chatter about Grinch’s job remaining in jeopardy after the Tulane loss, Riley didn’t fluctuate either, instead declaring his commitment in Grinch. This year, there’s included depth and experience at almost every position, which has actually reproduced an efficient competition throughout the board, in big part due to the fact that USC once again dipped deep into the transfer website to find an edge. Literally. After watching the SoCal USC last season, MarShawn Lloyd knew he wanted to join the Trojans. Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire MARSHAWN LLOYD WAS still wearing the garnet and black colors of the other USC across the nation when he was enjoying Lincoln Riley’s USC wide-eyed and with a tinge of jealousy.” I saw the Utah game and the Tulane game, and I hadn’t devoted,” Lloyd stated.”I was much like,’Man, I would enjoy to be because kind of offense. ‘”8 months later on, Lloyd now uses
cardinal and gold, having actually spoken his desire into reality by transferring from South Carolina to Southern California and landing squarely in the middle of the offense he appreciated from afar.
Lloyd, who rushed for 573 yards and nine touchdowns last season, is among numerous gifted transfers who entered the portal this offseason and wound up picking the Trojans.As offending fixtures such as Jordan Addison and Travis Dye left for the NFL, the Trojans had no issue refilling on offense. They added the similarity Lloyd, Arizona’s Dorian Singer– the Pac-12’s second-leading receiver in 2015– while bolstering their offending line with four-star offending lineman Emmanuel Pregnon from Wyoming and three-star offensive lineman Michael Tarquin from Florida. While in 2015’s portal run for USC remained in large part due to the scenario of overhauling a roster, this year’s additions appear to be more rooted in USC’s success and in its obvious needs after losing its last two games last year. It’s why most of its most significant targets in the website ended up being on defense.After losing its best protective player, Tuli Tuipulotu, to the NFL draft, USC needed to attend to that aforementioned edge rush position and its protective line as a whole. That unit is where USC discovered the most transfer portal success, adding players such as three-star Kyon Barrs from Arizona in December together with four-star Jack Sullivan from Purdue, four-star Anthony Lucas from Texas A&M, and ultimately the most significant get of them all in four-star defensive lineman Bear Alexander from Georgia.”We have more good players and less bad players,”Riley said matter-of-factly of the difference in between this year and this time last year.” The front seven defensively is a substantial distinction. It feels a lot different, a little more competition across the board.”The linebackers represent this concept well. Between a veteran and captain like Lee, a vibrant returning transfer in Eric Gentry and transfer additions such as Jamil Muhammad from Georgia State and four-star linebacker Mason Cobb from Oklahoma State, the room is filled with options, and that’s before
even considering real freshman Tackett Curtis, who has earned some representatives amongst the first string in practice and is noted as the starter at Will linebacker on USC’s just recently launched depth chart.Cobb, in particular, has been a standout for more than simply his play. In a brief time, he has actually ended up being not simply a fixture of the USC defense however a leader for the entire group, all of whom wax poetic about the new guy who has transformed into a team captain in record time.”That person deserves it,”Shaw said. “He came in right away and I seemed like I understood him permanently. He’s got a particular vibe to him, and we all gravitate to it. We’re extremely thrilled that he’s here.”When Riley initially got to USC, he emphasized his preference to develop his team through high school recruiting over relying greatly on
the website. That reliance reduced slightly this season, with 15 incoming transfers compared with 20 in 2015.” Moving on, what you do not do is state,’ Well, we’re not doing transfer, we’re not doing high school guys, ‘”Grinch said.”Let’s make the best roster we possibly can.
“While USC keeps jumping up the recruiting rankings and getting commitments from players such as the leading quarterback in the 2026 class, Julian Lewis, there is still an unmentioned seriousness to develop a lineup this season that can win now, in what will likely be Caleb Williams’last college season. John Bunch/Icon Sportswire IT IS A prefix that will forever precede his
name– Heisman winner– but Williams has currently moved past it.”He accomplished the greatest award you can– the Heisman– and he wants more, “Dedich said.”Not many individuals can in fact go out there and do that.”A glimpse at Williams ‘Instagram feed suffices to perceive the methods he has actually delighted in and supercharged his offseason after winning the Heisman. Visiting London. Strolling the runway at Paris Fashion Week. Participating in an F1 race in Monaco. Tossing the first pitch at a Dodgers game.
His colleagues, however, have seen him in different contexts: hanging out, preparing team activities, throwing at summertime workouts.”Everyone thinks he’s Superman, but he’s still human,” Dedich said.Williams, for his part, knows that remaining level with the teammates he will have to remedy or praise eventually is important to his function as a leader. It’s why he understands cruising in practices or workouts isn’t a choice. Or why being the one to create chemistry by hanging around outside the football field with the remainder of the team is vital to USC’s success.” Comfort and self-confidence,”Williams stated when asked what is different entering into his second season at USC.”Not simply for myself however for everyone overall. Confidence in the plan.
When you get a year under your belt, you get a lot of trials and
adversities, you get successful plays, you get some confidence, and you get to work with it the entire summer. That’s what we’ve been doing. “Those who have been around Williams can vouch for the growth. Some state he has entered being as much of a coach as he can be as a player. Others call out his management, while those who transferred
to USC do not be reluctant when confessing he was a consider their decision. Getting here on campus and connecting with Williams personally has just bolstered their belief that they made the best choice. “He organizes workouts and brings us along,” Vocalist stated.”He brought the offensive line to his very first pitch at the Dodgers game; he took the group paintballing a couple weeks ago. So it’s things like that individuals don’t see that makes him really special.”Yet absolutely nothing brings home that point more than when Williams ends up being as anonymous as he can be nowadays, putting on a helmet before putting on a program.”He’s a special skill and a distinct person,”Dedich stated when inquired about the contrast between Williams and Patrick Mahomes.” People are going to compare other kids to Caleb one day.”Protective leaps and enhancements on offense ought to boost USC’s possibilities this season, however every player understands the truth that the Trojans’opportunities rely greatly on Williams, whom every teammate seems to be lacking adjectives to describe. It is fitting then, that the unusual review originates from the person who understands him
finest.”He’s played a year and a half of college football. There’s 15 more levels he can get to,”Riley stated.”He requires to get better at a little bit
of everything. I do not understand if you guys believe me when I inform you that really is the reality. He’s remarkable, but he doesn’t stroll on water yet. He’s got a lot of work to do, and he’s the very first one to admit that.”If Williams’teammates are the chorus of appreciation Williams has actually earned, Riley is the realist, the motivator who understands that the task of improving upon last season will not be simple, even with a roster that’s much deeper, much better and more committed to winning.”I do believe he’s a better player today than he was,”Riley stated.” However he’s got an entire new set of difficulties that are showing up that he’s gon na need to be all set to work with.” So far the brand-new and enhanced Williams show has come behind closed doors, in practices where only a handful of people can watch. Come Saturday, the stage will welcome Williams as soon as again. And after the past eight months of work, USC is hoping the team that joins him up there will be a far better version than the one the Trojans have actually left behind.