Su'a Cravens is key to USC's defense of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley

Su'a Cravens is key to USC's defense of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley
USC linebacker Su'a Cravens. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

USC will need its entire defense to slow down UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

Junior Leonard Williams anchors the first line of opposition, senior linebacker Hayes Pullard the second and, perhaps, recently reinstated senior cornerback Josh Shaw the third.

But if USC opts to assign one player to track or spy Hundley, multitalented linebacker Su'a Cravens appears most suited to the task.

The sophomore has a team-best 14 tackles for losses, including five sacks.


Hundley has led the Bruins to two victories over the Trojans, including last season when he passed for 208 yards and rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-14 victory at the Coliseum.

Asked if he ever spied a quarterback as a defensive strategy during his five seasons at Washington, USC Coach Steve Sarkisian said slowing down players such as former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Hundley cannot be left to a single player.

"I don't know if one guy is, quite honestly, capable of doing it," Sarkisian said. "It's going to take a group effort."

Hundley has passed for 2,547 yards and 17 touchdowns, and rushed for 564 yards and seven touchdowns.

Cravens said the junior can "eat you alive in the pocket" and also beat a team with his legs.

"We just have to be smart and know what the situations are in the game, where the chains are, and make sure we don't let him get out of contain," Cravens said.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Cravens started at safety as a freshman. He has not played the spy role at USC, but said he would be comfortable doing so.

"If they want me to do it," he said. "I can."

Cravens has experience as a spy.

At Vista Murrieta High, Cravens said he spied Corona Centennial quarterbacks in four consecutive championship-game appearances. Centennial won three of the four games.

Noel Mazzone, UCLA's offensive coordinator, looks at the big picture when preparing for an opponent. Generally, every defensive player concerns him.

"I worry about 11 guys," Mazzone said.

But Cravens stands out.

"He's big enough to rush you and he's athletic enough to cover you in space," Mazzone said.

"You always have to be concerned about him."

Said UCLA Coach Jim Mora: "There is nothing on the field he can't do. Maybe he couldn't line up at nose guard, but there is very little he can't do on the football field."

Justin Wilcox, USC's defensive coordinator, was keeping his strategy for containing Hundley under wraps this week.

"There's different ways to do it," he said, "and we have a few different ways we'll use during the game."

Cravens said USC's defense must be disciplined throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter when the Trojans have struggled.

Cravens is looking forward to going against Hundley regardless of how USC coaches deploy him.

"He's a great player," Cravens said. "I'm confident in my abilities, so we'll see what happens Saturday."

Staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this article.

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein