All gas and no brakes? Three things to watch for in USC vs. Fresno State

USC players take the field before their win over Stanford on Sept. 10.
USC players take the field before their win over Stanford on Sept. 10. The Trojans look to improve to 3-0 on the season Saturday against Fresno State at the Coliseum.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

It doesn’t take a math whiz to know USC’s rate of turnovers forced is not sustainable. With four takeaways in each of its first two games — and zero turnovers lost — USC’s turnover margin sits atop all of college football. No team in recent history has kept up a plus-two pace in turnover margin, let alone plus-four.

Regression is coming. But for now, Alex Grinch isn’t about to let math get in the way of the mentality he’s trying to instill.

“The messaging is 100% we control it 100% of the time, and we don’t let truth get in the way,” the USC defensive coordinator said with a grin.


So Grinch really thinks USC can maintain this breakneck pace?

“Tell me why we can’t,” Grinch said. “You have to think that way. You’re not a passive member of the game of football. You’re an active member. We choose to have that approach that it’s controllable, and we have to go get them.”

Here are three things to watch for when USC plays host to Fresno State at the Coliseum on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (Ch. 11, Fox Sports app):


Run for cover

USC coach Lincoln Riley, left, talks with defensive coordinator Alex Grinch during practice in March.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

A more reliable method for USC to get more stops? Start with fortifying the run defense, which ranks 106th in the nation in yards allowed through two weeks.


The Trojans gave up 221 yards last Saturday to a Stanford offense that ranked in the bottom five in college football in yards rushing last season. Grinch, needless to say, wasn’t pleased with the effort, which he called “unacceptable.”

“We can’t be in a position where we’ll be reliant on the offense’s scores,” Grinch said. “We have to be much better in the run game.”

USC doesn’t have much depth along the defensive line, and that deficiency has shown so far. But the issues seen with the Trojans run defense seem to go deeper.

“Guys from a fit standpoint, you look at it, and is it a mental error?” Grinch said. “Is it a missed assignment? Is it a combination thereof? Is it miscommunication? What all those things are is, one, they’re excuses if you allow them to be. And they’re symptoms of what bad defenses do.”


Solomon Byrd, not Korey Foreman, up front

USC defensive lineman Korey Foreman lines up for a play against Washington State last season.
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Last Saturday morning, Lincoln Riley told Solomon Byrd to be ready. The Wyoming transfer had played just five snaps the week before but was trending up at practice.

Not even Riley realized how much USC would need Byrd against Stanford. After starting rush end Romello Height left with a shoulder injury, Byrd played 49 snaps, 21 more than Korey Foreman, who sat behind Height on the depth chart. Byrd racked up two sacks too.

“I was thrilled for Solomon,” Grinch said. “He’ll have an impact this week as well.”


It’s unclear if that rotation will remain the same this week. Height is likely to miss Saturday’s game, leaving it an open question who might take his place.

Foreman said he’s just focused on staying consistent.

“Skill, talent, that’s all cool and all, but effort, you can’t teach effort,” Foreman said. “That’s all within, so just trying to do the best you can and making sure every single day is the same day if not better.”


Late-night shootout?

USC quarterback Caleb Williams looks to pass against Stanford on Sept. 10.
(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

In their last four meetings, USC and Fresno State have combined for an average of 69 points per game. Their latest matchup could be similarly high-flying.

USC’s offense ranks second in the nation in scoring (53.5 points per game), while Fresno State’s passing offense ranks ninth in the nation in yards (368.5 per game). Quarterback Jake Haener could be among the top quarterbacks USC faces all season.

“The ball is gonna be in the air,” Grinch said.

But that approach should play right into USC’s hands … assuming its defense can salvage a few stops when necessary.