The Morning After: Fearsome Foursome

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Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

Chuckie Keeton. Chuckie Keeton. Chuckie Keeton. That's all the new Trojans' defense heard this week as they prepped for its first real offensive powerhouse of the season.

George Uko, who picked up his 4th sack of the season, said, "We were tired of hearing about him. Our main focus was trying to keep him in the pocket and not let him get any runs on us. We came out and executed the game plan."

The defense executed defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's plan shutting down Heisman hopeful Chuckie Keeton (pictured by John McGillen) by limiting him to only 179 yards through the air and -15 yards rushing, pretty good numbers against an offense that was averaging 49 points per game and 550 yards rushing.

In fact, Keeton entered the game Saturday leading the Utah State Aggies in rushing with 187 yards, and he had thrown for over 900 yards with 12 touchdowns in just nine quarters of play.  However, Keeton had not faced anything like the Trojans dynamic 5-2 scheme that has held all of its four opponents to under 300 yards led primarily by tremendous efforts on the front line.

Leading that effort is silent but deadly outside linebacker Morgan Breslin who entered his senior season on a low note after suffering a foot injury during training camp.  The junior college transfer boasted impressive numbers last season racking up 62 tackles with a team-leading 19.5 tackles for losses and a team-high 13 sacks that ranked him fifth nationally.

Though Breslin does not do media interviews, his character can best be described by his teammates and coaches. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron, who referred to Breslin as one of his all-time favorite players this week, praised the senior's mindset saying, "Morgan has a tremendous motor that doesn't turn off. It doesn't matter who the opponent is or the score. After missing the first game this year he's regaining the form that makes him such a difficult force on the line."

Breslin's switch to outside linebacker this season enables him to be an even more effective pass rusher in Pendergast's aggressive defense. He led the Trojans' defensive attack against the Aggies with two sacks but helping him out were DE Leonard Williams who had a team-best eight tackles, OLB Devon Kennard who sacked Keeton for a loss of seven yards and DE George Uko who sacked Keeton for a five-yard loss.

More importantly, Uko led the stop late in the game when the Aggies were driving down the field with limited time remaining. On 4th-and-9, Uko crushed the dreams of an Aggie upset with huge pressure on Keeton resulting in a turnover on downs.

"We just had a good plan going into the week with Coach O for the inside people to push rush and the outside people to align wide and just angle in and rush tight to keep them in a tight box," said Uko. "We just did that and I came back up and under and made the play."

The defense stepped it up on third and fourth downs especially late in the game limiting the Aggies offense to a 29 percent third down conversion rate compared to its 65 percent efficiency heading into the game Saturday. 

Veteran linebacker Devon Kennard spoke of the defense's focus on critical downs saying, "Every time we step on the field we want to get a stop. Our goal is to never let the offense score. We had opportunities to get stops and we wanted to do so. So everybody was just like let's go. There was a lot of energy on this side of the ball." 

Though the Trojans' defense has done nothing but impress week after week, it still has a lot of work to do in preparation for Pac-12 play.  Utah State was the toughest offense the Trojans have faced so far but more challenges are coming like No. 5 Stanford and next week's opponent, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Is the Trojans' defense worried? Not a chance. Uko said, "I feel good about my defense. We're confident and I already know that Coach Pendergast is going to have a great scheme for us so we're just gonna go out there and execute and get the job done."

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