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Week 11 Defensive Preview: USC (5–4)

Cal faces a USC defense that has suffered injuries on the defensive side

NCAA Football: Southern California at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting Report:

Scheme: Base 3-4
Defensive Coordinators: Clancy Pendergast

Week 6 Recap: Defeated Oregon State 38–21
Pass Defense: 67 % completion percentage, 302 passing yards allowed and 1 touchdown
Rush Defense: 31 rushing yards on 32 attempts, 1.03 yards per attempt, with 2 touchdowns
Total Defense: 0 turnovers, 332 yards total offense allowed, 9/19 on third downs

Defensive Line:

Opposed to weeks past, Cal has to face a defensive line possessing size. The average D-lineman on the Trojans is around 6 feet 4 inches, with no players shorter than 6 foot 3. The Golden Bears have a tough challenge, but their big boys up front have their own size to match the challenge.

Marlon Tuipulotu is back in the starting lineup after suffering a season-ending back injury during his true-freshman year in 2017. Tuipulotu was allowed a medical redshirt and is back in action. He was a four-star recruit and ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle in his class, two spots below his teammate Jay Tufele. Tuipulotu has played modestly on a USC defensive line giving up 158 rush yards-per-game. He has 22 tackles and two tackles-for-loss through nine games.

That previously-mentioned defensive tackle, Jay Tufele, came to the Trojans campus as a highly-recruited player. Tufele was a top-40 player in 2017 and was the No. 1 player in Utah. His numbers are an example of how much lives in opposing backfields. Tufele has 4.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks, fourth most on USC in both categories.

Malik Dorton plays in the middle of the line, going up against interior lineman. He has excellent strength at the point of attack when the ball is snapped. Dorton converts his power to speed and gets off blocks that way. Dorton’s stats aren’t sexy—only 22 tackles, two TFLs, and one sack—but his impact on defense is felt when he disrupts plays and allows his teammates to make plays.


The Golden Bears catch a lucky break by not having to face USC stand-out linebacker Porter Gustin. The senior starter has been a tremendous linebacker in USC’s 3-4 scheme since he was a freshman, but the last two seasons he’s been plagued by season-ending injuries. Before Gustin fractured his ankle Oct. 14, he was the Trojans pass rush. His productive numbers of seven sacks and 10 TFLs will be difficult to replace. Filling in for him against Cal on Sat. will be Christian Rector.

Rector is a bowling ball of a rush linebacker on the left side. His bull rush is his best pass-rush move and he uses it frequently on right tackles. Rector stands out on the field because of his size, looming over players at 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds. The redshirt junior has contributed defensively on the field since his first year of eligibility in 2016. Rector is coming off of his best game of the season against Oregon State, matching his season-high in TFLs with 3.5 as well as logging a season-high 2.5 sacks.

Hawaii native Jordan Iosefa is the other outside linebacker starting opposite of Rector. Iofesa has been a versatile player for USC in his three years playing. Iofesa can play inside or outside, but as of late has taken on the rush linebacker role. He’s in his second year as a starter and only improving in each game. Iosefa doesn’t make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he consistently makes tackles.

John Houston Jr. and Cameron Smith anchor the inside linebacker spots on the defense. Smith and Houston Jr. both have prototypical middle linebacker size and instincts. The duo has combined for 109 tackles this season. The pair has the first- and second-most tackles on the team, with Houston Jr. in the lead for first. Houston Jr. is coming off an 84-tackle season in 2017 and has reached 57 already in 10 games. Smith has been a fixture on defense, playing 43 career games as a Trojan and racking up 325 tackles in that span.

Defensive Backs:

The Golden Bears get lucky again with USC’s injury woes on defense. Stud safety Talanoa Hufanga had 51 tackles and 3.5 TFLs in his true-freshman campaign before he broke his collarbone in late October. Fifth-year senior Ajene Harris is starting in his place and may stay there for the remainder of the season.

Strong safety Marvell Tell II is one of the most experienced defensive backs on the roster, starting in every game since his freshman season in 2015. Tell II is fourth on the team with 40 tackles and is one of two players to catch an interception this season.

Despite constantly bringing in five-star prospects in the secondary, the Trojans give up 229 yards through the air per game and have only two interceptions. Cornerbacks Iman Marshall, Jack Jones, and Olaijah Griffin all came to Pasadena as five-star prospects.

Marshall has lived up to his high-profile status, logging six career interceptions and 32 pass-breakups. Marshall hasn’t been hot as of recently although, failing to register an interception yet this season. He is also dealing with an ankle sprain that might limit his play time or even put him on the sideline against Cal.

Jack Jones really hasn’t lived up to expectations, in fact, he’s no longer on the team. After being declared academically ineligible to play in May, he was arrested for breaking and entering a Panda Express a month later.

Griffin, son of legendary rapper Warren G, has seen only a small amount of playing time in his true freshman season. He has a shoulder injury that team doctors have been regulating and may miss his second game in a row this Saturday.