David Cloninger

Cloninger’s pick: Biggest improvement needs to come from USC defense

Isaiah Johnson (21) and the USC defense need to play a whole lot better Saturday
Isaiah Johnson (21) and the USC defense need to play a whole lot better Saturday tdominick@thestate.com

A third new quarterback in four weeks, a true freshman center who’s played center for half a game and a defense that can’t stop a marauding cricket. Throw in that the USC faithful is in its usual pants-on-fire mode and here comes South Carolina football.

It’s not pleasant, surely, between Key and Bluff these days but Mike Matulis put it best Tuesday – it could end up being 11-2. Now, I’m telling you that it won’t, but it could get close. It could, and it starts Saturday.

UCF is not a good football team. USC isn’t, either, but I think it’s going to improve. Lorenzo Nunez brings the offense a dynamic it didn’t have under Connor Mitch or Perry Orth, and if he can get his throwing down (and some receivers to help him out), he’ll be fine. If nothing else, the Gamecocks can get into their form of last year – always going to have a chance because they can score.

Of course the biggest improvement has to come from defense. I think it will show off Saturday, because (1.) it can’t get much worse and (2.) UCF is as bad on offense as USC is on defense. Advantage to the D there, and hopefully from above.

There has to have been a moment this week to change whatever’s going on with this defensive alignment. USC will not have anything close to Matulis’ words if it does not adjust something to take away those wide-open spaces. Poor Isaiah Johnson has to feel like he’s covering the Kansas prairie every time he’s watching his corners let another guy catch the ball 10 yards in front of them.

At least show the fans that USC is trying to take away the offense’s easiest looks. Let Nunez grow into the role. Come out firing, ready to take advantage early and let UCF play catch-up.

USC wins. If it’s a blowout, at least confidence will be high. If it’s a close one, at least it’s a win.