Last season, Nik Bonitto was a highly productive player for coach Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. The Oklahoma edge rusher had 52 total quarterback pressures, seven sacks, and 15 tackles for loss. He was a player Riley knew they didn’t have to worry about on Saturdays. Opposing offensive coordinators did. Bonitto was going to get his. He was the Big 12’s highest-graded defender (per PFF).

With Grinch now calling the shots for USC’s defense, he’s looking for that same kind of player. Through seven games, results are mixed.

USC has options at its rush end position. Korey Foreman has the pedigree. Romello Height was the starter but an injury has planted him on the shelf for what Riley expects is the rest of the season. Solomon Byrd had a productive stretch in the lead-up to Pac-12 play, but has seen his snaps decrease in each of the last three games.

Nick Figueroa manned the position for USC against Utah.

“Nick is one of those guys who, as games were going on and he was playing in more of a role situation, he was able to make plays and be very productive and we wanted to find ways to get him on the field a little bit more,” Riley told reporters this week.

Mainly, the Trojans are looking for someone to take the spot and run with it.

“We’re continuing to look for the most productive and experienced players there,” he said. “Solomon’s done some nice things. Korey’s done some nice things. They all have.

“We’re going to continue to give them opportunities as they earn them, but certainly looking for somebody to really just come in and take that over. We definitely want to get more production out of that position. You look historically in this defensive system, that rush position has always been a very, very productive player. So, the combination of those guys — whether it’s all three, whether it’s one that steps up and separates himself — we feel like we have three good players that need to go take off and really play well for us.”

Byrd has six TFLs so far this season, while Figueroa has four. Tuli Tuipulotu leads the defense with seven sacks, but Figueroa is next in line with 3.5 in his appearances so far. Foreman wasn’t in the gameplan for Utah.

We’ll see how that spot shakes out coming out of USC’s bye week. USC came out of Week 7 leading all of college football in sacks, so it’s not like the defense is hurting for production in general. However, getting a few extra playmakers to step up and pair with Tuipulotu could be the difference between good and great for this USC team.

The Trojans travel to Tucson to face Arizona Saturday at 4 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Network.