Western Michigan rushed for 263 yards against USC last Saturday.
The last time the Trojans allowed so many in one game?
Last season’s Pac-12 opener at Stanford.
Who’s next on the schedule?
The Cardinal visits the Coliseum this weekend.
Though USC escaped with a 49-31 victory over Western Michigan in its season opener, its run defense emerged as a cause for concern. Through Sunday, it ranked 113th out of 125 FBS teams in rush defense.
In the week before facing Western Michigan, USC coach Clay Helton offered high praise of the opposing backfield, terming it a “three-headed monster,” led by Jarvion Franklin, Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellamy.
But few teams in college football in recent years have established as lofty a reputation for their running game as Stanford, which owns three straight victories over the Trojans.
“It’s one of those games where you always circle, because you know you’re in for a war, a physical battle,” Helton said.
Stanford lost Christian McCaffrey, its slippery running back who departed for the NFL, but it still amassed 287 rushing yards in its season-opening win over Rice, led by Bryce Love, another blistering quick runner who ran for 180 yards.
USC must make quick strides. Poor tackling largely ailed its run defense against Western Michigan.
Helton said the Trojans tried for too many arm tackles and did not often “run our feet through a tackle.” Their defenders were at times out of position too, or they “lost gap control,” Helton added.
Several players pointed out that USC decreased its live repetitions in the final two weeks of preseason practices, a move that limited the amount of tackling. The season opener was a sudden change.
“We really got our feet wet,” senior safety Chris Hawkins said.
Helton said he adopted such an approach in an effort to reduce injuries and handle an extra week of training camp, which started in late July, believed to be the earliest start in program history.
“I think we provided a lot of physicality through camp,” Helton said. “It’s a fine line between the physical aspect of the game and being smart to make sure your players are healthy.”
The Trojans will resume practices on Tuesday. Tackling will be a focal point.
“I know that our defensive coaches will make sure that is addressed this week,” Helton said.
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