Alex Grinch isn’t the sort to sugarcoat. It’s a part of the explanation, gamers say, that the USC defensive coordinator instructions respect. He shoots it straight. Even when it means placing himself within the crosshairs.
So when he was requested Thursday to take inventory of what he completed with USC’s protection in his first season as coordinator, Grinch stepped into the road of fireside as soon as once more.
“The answer is, ‘Not enough,’” he mentioned. “You’re charged with having a championship-level defense at USC. You signed up for that. We played good enough defense 11 times. We didn’t play good enough defense two times, but I don’t take a lot of solace in that. We were expected to have a championship-level defense, and we weren’t able to do that in the ‘22 season.”
These shortcomings have been laid naked in its Pac-12 title defeat as USC gave up 533 yards and a season-high 47 factors to Utah in what was simply its worst tackling efficiency of the season. Ever since, any finger-pointing from outdoors this system has skilled on USC’s coordinator and the path he’s taken the Trojans protection.
Grinch would possibly agree with a lot of these critiques. Some, in actual fact, he’s in all probability made himself.
However by this week, as USC ready to journey to the Cotton Bowl looking for its twelfth win and Mekhi Blackmon noticed followers calling for his coach’s job whereas scrolling by social media, the senior cornerback couldn’t tolerate any extra criticism.
“I Speak For A Lot Of People When I Say Grinch A Great MF Coach,” Blackmon tweeted on Monday.
It was Grinch’s teaching, in spite of everything, that satisfied the cornerback to switch from Colorado to USC a 12 months in the past. Blackmon proceeded to have one of the best season of his faculty profession, rising as a first-team All-Pac-12 cornerback and soon-to-be NFL draft decide. He says Grinch performed a serious function in that course of.
“Coming here changed my whole game,” Blackmon mentioned.
Max Williams says he has witnessed loads of change inside USC’s protection over the past 12 months. The junior USC defensive again remembers the place the group stood final December whereas he watched from the sidelines recovering from an ACL tear. The protection had come aside on the seams, shedding its method over the ultimate weeks of final season.
He wonders if that miserable nadir has been misplaced amid the criticism over this season’s unit.
“Some people fail to realize, like, where this defense was at last year and where this team was at last year because of the success we have this year,” Williams mentioned. “It blinds the fact of what happened last year. We know we took a big jump.”
These steps aren’t all the time really easy to quantify relating to protection. Although, this season has made for some noteworthy markers.
USC pressured eight extra turnovers in 2022 on its solution to main the nation in turnover margin. Its protection gave up 4 fewer factors per sport and tallied as many sacks this season (36) because it had within the earlier two mixed.
However tackling was nonetheless subpar. USC was nonetheless rolled over within the run sport, and its secondary appeared to take a step again in the course of the homestretch of the season. Apart from its win over 1-11 Colorado, USC’s go protection allowed 300-plus yards and three-plus touchdowns in six of its final seven video games.
“It’s not always linear,” senior linebacker Shane Lee mentioned. “[Progress] doesn’t always look the way you want it to look.”
It actually didn’t this season at USC, the place the Trojans protection appeared to take one step ahead one week solely to take two steps again the following.
“If you’re not careful, you default to just being OK,” Grinch mentioned. “It pains me to say that that’s where we’ve been the bulk of the year. We’re still learning. You try to bend reality to the situation you’re in. We had an opportunity to play for a championship, and we couldn’t bend reality far enough to get that thing done.”
However simply because USC fell wanting a championship doesn’t imply Grinch plans on doing any bending together with his defensive philosophy.
“In terms of how we practice, what we preach, what we do, we won’t change a lick,” Grinch mentioned. “If you call yourself a good coach, you have to believe in the things you’re coaching.”
That perception paid off at his final cease, the place Oklahoma’s protection improved considerably from his first to his second season, permitting six fewer factors per sport. The distinction, Grinch mentioned, was the adversity the Sooners had skilled the season earlier than.
“You want to skip steps,” Grinch mentioned, “and I know coaches like to talk like this and believe me, I’m not trying to spin a tale here, but that’s fact. You look at these programs and how they get to where they got to — well, they went through some things. They played in the game and found that it takes a little bit more from a preparation standpoint. It’s fighting through some stuff.
“It’s getting knocked down and getting back up.”
As Grinch sees it, USC is nicely on its solution to the second step.
“That’s what this past month has been about,” he mentioned. “We’ve flat gotten after it.”