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Keys to USC’s Utah defense rematch – Orange County Register

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LOS ANGELES — The answer came in response to a question about improving pass defense, but defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s response illustrated the No. 4 USC’s mindset as he prepares for his rematch against No. 11 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday.

“I think a step would be significant. We have to take leaps forward,” Grinch said on Tuesday. “We watch the film, we have frustration. They watch the film, they have a lot of confidence. We understand that.”

When the Trojans met the Utes in mid-October, USC gave up 43 points and 562 yards, the two worst marks of the season for USC. The Trojans, naturally, lost, despite seven touchdowns and 556 yards themselves.

On Friday, however, USC has the opportunity to atone for its only loss. If so, the Trojans will win the Pac-12 championship and qualify for the college football playoffs for the first time ever.

For USC to do that, the defense will have to, as the Grinch says, be leaps and bounds better than they were in Week 7. Here’s a look at what USC plans to do to prepare for the Utes.

stop this man

If you hear a name from Utah in the build-up to this game, it’s going to be Dalton Kincaid. Against USC, Kincaid caught all 16 passes that came his way for a career-high 234 yards and a touchdown, moving the chains 12 times for first downs.

“As a competitor, you certainly remember that. And you don’t have to replay it to remember it. It’s a constant,” Grinch said. “Someone has their career game against you, there’s a level of embarrassment about it.”

Perhaps most concerning for USC was what Kincaid did with the ball in his hands against the Trojans. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound tight end had 109 yards after the catch against USC and forced four of USC’s 18 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.

That’s why Grinch is calling for an all-player mentality against Kincaid this week, saying that if 10 Trojans try to tackle him on any given play, that’s too few.

standing man

Against USC, Utah quarterback Cam Rising completed 67.4% of his passes for 415 yards. Devaughn Vele and Micah Bernard each caught five assists, while five other Utes added one each.

While Grinch wants to see USC’s passing rush do a better job of finishing sacks than in Game 1, he’s put the blame on the secondary to win his individual battles, especially in headed opportunities- headed.

“We have to find ways to win in men’s coverage,” Grinch said. “We have to have some confidence when we call the man cover that my man is not going to catch the football.”

Stay on the line

An interesting wrinkle to this rematch is that Utah’s offense has changed since the last time it played USC. Rising suffered an unknown injury against USC or in the bye week that followed as he missed Utah’s next game and has been limited in all four games since.

This forced the Utes to place a renewed emphasis on the running game. After averaging 192.4 rushing yards through the first seven games, Utah has averaged 258.6 rushing yards over the past five weeks.

USC actually did respectably against the run against Utah, holding the Utes to a season-low 138 rushing yards. This may or may not be the result of Utah playing from behind for much of the game. But USC should expect a much more determined rushing effort from the Utes this time around.

“Respect their ability to run football at all times,” Grinch said. “Playing this program in the past, there has always been an emphasis on this physical way of playing that you have to have respect for.”

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