Don’t let the final score of 45-17 fool you. The Fresno State Bulldogs came into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and gave the Trojans a great fight. For the first half of the game.
For the third week in a row, the Trojans run defense was gashed for over 5.1 yards per carry and 150+ overall rushing yards. In its complete complementary entirety, the Bulldogs’ passing defense sacked Caleb Williams three times, kept the Trojans under 300 passing yards, and held them to only two passing touchdowns.
Additionally, the Bulldogs are the first team in 2022 to halt the mighty USC offense from scoring on six consecutive drives. They limited it to three drives. As splitting-hairs as it may seem, it allowed them to go into the half trailing 21-10, a manageable deficit to overcome.
The Trojan resolve
One of the most important things to note about Saturday’s game is that it remained a close competition through the first half.
The Bulldogs tested the Trojans in a way they have yet to be tested. Every game isn’t going to be a runaway blowout. Sometimes in an actual football game, you get hit and get knocked down a peg, from time to time. Granted, the Trojans never trailed. But, they didn’t leave the Bulldogs in the dust either.
When the third quarter started, it was all over for the Bulldogs. The offensive line completely took over the game and made the Bulldog defense lie down and be still. The running game continued rolling; the offense possessed the football and ran off four more scoring drives in a row.
As a team, the Trojans ran the ball 38 times for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns. Austin Jones and Travis Dye led the way, both finishing above the 100-yard mark with a touchdown apiece and averaging over 9.2 yards per carry, grinding away, play after play, until the clock expired and the Trojans emerged victorious.
What did we learn?
This team has heart. This team can battle, in ways, and the physicality on both sides of the ball is beginning to establish itself. In the spring game, the defense faced many critiques and left many questions unanswered. But, there is an old saying from the bible; “Iron sharpens iron.” The defensive backs have practiced daily against some of the top receivers in the country in Jordan Addison, Marion Williams, and Brenden Rice.
Stemming from this offseason and spring and fall camps are the seven interceptions three games into the season. As a whole, the defense is averaging 3.7 turnovers per game. Pass-rush has become much more of a factor in the clutch. Tuli Tuipulotu has continued to assert himself up front and dominate the line of scrimmage.
On the flip side, the run defense has been horrendous. Against the Bulldogs, it was a true “bend but don’t break” style of run-stopping. A respectable 164 yards and one touchdown on 32 carries. Although there aren’t many teams stopping the run, with three-down linemen and six-man fronts the Trojans continue to put up 40+ and overwhelm another defense.