June 16, 2024

Lincoln Riley standing behind Alex Grinch despite defensive struggles

USC Trojans Football

USC Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch walks towards the sideline during a timeout in the fourth quarter against Colorado Saturday September 30, 2023 at Folsom Field. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

BOULDER, Colo. — It’s no mystery that Colorado exposed USC’s defense in a major way last Saturday.

After all, the Trojans allowed a season-high in yards, points and first downs, which left fans apprehensive about the direction of the defense under Alex Grinch. From missed tackles, to defenders out of place in coverage, the performance was very familiar to how USC’s defense crumbled down the stretch last season.

There’s no denying the Trojans’ achilles heel under Coach Lincoln Riley is their defense. That’s why several of USC’s games result in offensive shootouts. The fans feel Grinch’s scheme and game plan is a liability, but Riley remains confident in his Defensive Coordinator. He thought the Buffaloes had an explosive offense, and the Trojans did the best they could to contain them.

“We didn’t do a good job of keeping the quarterback in the pocket,” Riley said. “You gotta own those things, and we have to be better at them.”

Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders torched the secondary for 371 yards and four touchdowns. The Buffaloes also rushed for a season-high, 193 yards against the Trojans. Grinch’s defense was on the field for a jaw-dropping, 90 plays. The players were obviously fatigued, and Colorado took advantage. Riley was concerned in the fourth quarter after Sanders pulled Colorado within a touchdown.

It took the Trojans to cover the Buffaloes’ onside kick to seal the game. If Colorado got the ball back, it likely would’ve scored and tied the game up. Riley was disappointed Grinch’s defense couldn’t close the game out, which is vital in a hostile environment.

“Missed tackles, we did the things that you don’t do when you’re trying to finish out a good opponent on the road,” he said.

USC currently ranks 10th in the Pac-12, and 98th in the FBS in total defense. Still, Riley believes the defense is light years ahead of where the unit was in 2022. That’s when the Trojans finished 106th nationally in total defense. Grinch’s boys had a rough outing at Folsom Field, but Riley refuses to overreact from one game.

“Those are plays we didn’t make, but no it doesn’t look like last year,” the 40-year old coach said. “There’s a lot that has improved, and we obviously gotta put it all together.”

Grinch’s defense has looked promising in certain areas though. The unit currently ranks first in the nation in tackles for loss, and leads the Pac-12 in sacks. That’s something Riley wants to build on as the Trojans approach the meat grinder of their conference schedule.

Regardless of the matter, the fans want to see Riley keep the pedal to the metal with his play-calling, and for Grinch to hold up his end of the bargain. USC (5-0) always seem to jump out to a big lead, and then stay in cruise control the rest of the way. It almost came back to bite the No. 9 Trojans, so they have to make adjustments. There’ll be conference battles when Caleb Williams won’t be able to do everything, and Grinch’s defense will have to deliver in the clutch.

USC will face some potent offenses over the next seven games, including Arizona, Notre Dame, Washington, and Oregon. By that time everyone will find out everything they need to know about Grinch’s defense.

Riley could care less what the critics and fans say about Grinch. In his eyes, USC’s defense is making strides. Riley was even asked at his post game press conference if he still had trust in Grinch, and he gave a three-word answer.

“Yes I do.”