On his third snap against Nevada-Las Vegas on Saturday, USC linebacker Porter Gustin realized he had seen the offensive scheme before.
Gustin knew where quarterback Armani Rogers was exposed on the Rebels’ second drive of the game, so he attacked based on recognition. He yanked Rogers to the ground for a six-yard sack in the first quarter of USC’s 43-21 win in the Coliseum. USC will face Stanford next — a 5:30 p.m. matchup in Stanford Stadium on Sept. 8.
Gustin’s first sack since Sept. 16, 2017, came two plays after he recovered a fumble on UNLV’s first possession of the game, setting up the Trojans for a field goal.
“I’m a little bit rusty,” Gustin said. “Just getting a feel for a couple things.”
A week before, Gustin did not know if he could play Saturday, sidelined for the final weeks of fall camp as he recovered from meniscus surgery. His knee issue came after missing the majority of last season with a toe injury.
Once he was cleared to play, Gustin had only one week of on-the-field experience before starting in his first game since Oct. 28, 2017. To make up for missed time, Gustin disappeared into the film room — three to four extra hours on his own per day, he guessed.
Gustin studied the film before and after workouts and in between classes with other teammates. But he was still uncertain. The Trojans only had film from UNLV last season, with no way of knowing which aspects would overlap.
The unfamiliarity with the team did not stop him, and neither did his knee, which Gustin said felt OK Saturday, after dealing with only mild soreness when practicing the week before.
“Once my knee gets warmed up and starts to get a little tight, it’s almost like it goes away,” Gustin said. “And I forget about it.”
The only answer to Gustin’s rust is experience. After spending the week getting readjusted, he still felt behind in aspects of his technique. Not that it showed against UNLV.
At least Gustin knew what to expect from defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who is in his third season at USC. As Gustin reintegrated into the defense Saturday, he fit well in the familiar scheme.
“[Pendergast] just knows how to attack the offense and where to attack them from, so that’s something he does really great,” Gustin said. “Puts me in a position to be able to make plays and have an impact.”
With a week of practice and an impressive in-game performance under his belt, Gustin’s comfort on the field is growing with his experience. He finished with three tackles and 1.5 sacks.
“I think it’s important just to get the kinks out like I said and get in that football rhythm,” Gustin said.
After the game, Gustin walked off the field to Trojans fans calling his name. He ripped his white headband from his hair and tossed it to a boy in the stands before disappearing into the tunnel. Next, he must prepare for tougher competition, Stanford and Texas, as he continues ridding himself of the rust from his hiatus from the field. Still, Saturday offered a small celebration for Gustin.