Through six games, USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu has seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. In both instances, they’re career marks. Last season, USC’s leading TFL-getter collected eight. Tuipulotu had 7.5 in 12 games. He led the defense with 5.5 sacks in 2021.

With three sacks and four TFLs in a 30-14 win over Washington State, Tuipulotu shined. He’s playing like one of the best defensive linemen in the country.

“That’s Tuli. That’s what he’s going to be,” said linebacker Eric Gentry. “He’s a first-round draft pick. That’s his expectation. That’s our expectation. He’s just doing what the country expects. He’s an amazing player. He’s the guy on this defense.”

Added defensive coordinator Alex Grinch: “You get to the point where you just think he’s going to make a play and you look at the call sheet and don’t want to get in his way.”

USC’s defense put away Washington State. They set the tone of the game right from its opening minutes — Tuipulotu had two sacks on Washington State’s second drive — and then shut out the opposing offense in the second half.

The Trojans have allowed just 36 second-half points this season. In the last three weeks, they’ve allowed two second-half scores. That’s it.

At the same time, they’ve scored 113 themselves.

“I would especially highlight the defensive front,” coach Lincoln Riley said after the game. “The defensive front was dominant and was a force in the game, and it came from a lot of different people. This guy (Tuipulotu) obviously had a huge hand in it, but a lot of other people did as well.

“We tried to talk to this team about how we don’t want to play one style on offense, one style on defense, one style on special teams. We want people to watch us and see a similar style no matter what unit is on the field. Defense has led us to some huge victories, and I’m proud of them. But I know there’s more there, and I know we’re going to keep getting better and responding to the different adversities that come our way.”

Tuipulotu’s ability to move around on the defensive line is really helping this Trojan staff. It lets them play multiple. It lets them keep guys fresh.

“Tuli is a tough matchup, and our ability to move him around is a great tool,” said Riley. “We’ve got a creative defensive staff, and he’s a player that can handle that type of versatility. So it’s been good to get those guys back, and it not only allows us to move him around, but it allows us to keep fresh bodies and continually run them. As aggressive as we play on the defensive front, having fresh bodies is key.

“Think about the last couple of weeks. You’ve seen it really show up and show up big in second halves. That’ll continue to pay dividends for us if we can continue to play a lot of guys. The key is you’re not going to just put bodies in there, but you’ve got to be getting production. We’re getting production right now, especially in the second halves.”