Greg McElroy explains how USC bounced back from 'rock bottom' to win January
Greg McElroy said this week on the Always College Football podcast that USC won the month of January after Lincoln Riley made several moves to fortify his defensive staff.
Speaking with ESPN’s Matt Barrie, the former Alabama quarterback said USC hit rock bottom during the 2023 regular season. Since the bowl game, things have been trending in the right direction as Riley has brought in multiple defensive coaches with coordinator experience or strong track records on that side of the football.
“He identified an issue with Alex Grinch defensively,” McElroy said. “Now, are they going to alter practice? Are they going to change how they approach spring ball? Are they gonna have more physicality in practice? I can’t tell you those things. I don’t know. But I do know this: He’s gotten it right with some of the hires he has made defensively.”
USC brought in D’Anton Lynn, Matt Entz, Doug Belk, and Eric Henderson to join the defensive staff — all assistants with strong pedigrees on that side of the football.
Entz was a sitting head coach at North Dakota State. Lynn immediately turned around the UCLA defense in his year with the Bruins. Belk has coordinator experience. Henderson worked with Aaron Donald while with the Los Angeles Rams.
If nothing else, the collaboration on the defensive side of the ball should be much better. The organization could be better. Trojan fans hope the scheme is better.
“It felt like rock bottom for SC there at the end of the regular season. They had a good bowl performance, and now they’ve fortified their defensive staff,” McElroy said. “So, I’m feeling like the arrow is pointing up for the Trojans.”
Barrie agreed with McElroy from a staff standpoint. But he questioned if USC has the players yet to make enough of a difference on the field.
“I’ve talked to several Pac-12 coaches over the years and recently that didn’t believe USC had any interest in hitting you,” Barrie said. “They weren’t physical like the Pete Carroll days of USC.
“There are coaches within the country that believe the California player is much different than the Texas player, than the Big Ten player, than the SEC player, which is to say physical with speed. Has Lincoln found a way to bring in the type of attitude player that he’s going to need to succeed with that new defense and play in the Big Ten?”
That remains the key question. The Trojans finished the regular season with a 7-5 record and they limped to the finish line. A 50-49 win over Cal was all that stood between SC and a six-game losing streak to close out a season that began with a 6-0 record.
UCLA played the role of bully in the regular-season finale.
And then in the Holiday Bowl USC showed signs of life. In the weeks since, Riley has steadied the ship. The transfer class ranks 12th nationally, built mostly on the defensive side of the ball with four defensive backs, a linebacker, and two defensive linemen. We’ll see if Riley has more moves to make in the spring.