Shaw can shore up USC’s defense

first_imgFor the better part of three months, I never thought senior cornerback Josh Shaw would return to the USC football team.Once Shaw revealed that he leapt from his own third-story balcony to evade police — and that those police officers were responding to a potential domestic violence incident — I thought he was done. Even if he hadn’t physically harmed his longtime girlfriend, as he claimed, there was no way USC wanted to endure the media circus that reinstating Shaw would surely cause. Considering the NFL’s recent history with domestic violence, it was a long shot that Shaw would ever suit up again.Then came Monday. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to press criminal charges, and the possibility of Shaw’s return to Troy gained steam. In the eyes of the law, he had done nothing wrong, meaning that his 10-game suspension could essentially be attributed to one lie. A big lie, to be sure. But just a lie.Pundits and fans argued that 10 games was long enough. Continuing a player’s suspension after he had been cleared of any wrongdoing made no sense. The university agreed, lifting Shaw’s suspension on Tuesday afternoon. In the end, it was a predictable development. The decision was probably the right one, and I’m not going to criticize it. A lot of smart people — in law enforcement and at USC —  spent hours investigating the incident and came to the conclusion that Josh Shaw is not a criminal.With that out of the way, I can finally throw my hat in the ring and deliver my #JoshShaw hot take: Shaw might not be a criminal, but he is a damn good football player who can give the Trojans a shot to win the Pac-12.O.K., back up. A lot of dominoes need to fall in just the right order for that to happen, so let’s be more realistic: #JoshShaw can help USC beat UCLA on Saturday night.Unfortunately, it’s no big secret that the Trojans’ secondary has been remarkably inconsistent this season. At its best, the unit held Oregon State’s Sean Mannion — a future pro — to 123 yards on 15-of-32 passing. At its worst? Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici had 600 yards and four touchdowns in his entire career before playing USC on Oct. 4. He proceeded to torch the Trojans for 510 yards and five scores in one night.As usual, statistics — however gaudy — don’t tell the whole story. To figure out where and when USC’s secondary has failed, and where Shaw can help, a closer look is necessary.As painful as it is to remember, USC led ASU 27-18 late in the fourth quarter. To that point the Sun Devils’ potent attack had been frustrated, both by a series of long drives from the Trojans’ offense and a valiant effort from the USC defense.Unfortunately, with just under four minutes left to play, everything unraveled. First came a 21-yard touchdown strike from Bercovici to running back D.J. Foster. ASU lined up with three receivers to Bercovici’s right on the play, the versatile Foster being the closest to the quarterback. USC’s nickel defense consisted of five defensive backs, a cornerback assigned to each of the Sun Devils’ three primary receivers and two deep safeties. This left senior linebacker Hayes Pullard in charge of Foster in the flat, with senior safety Gerald Bowman helping on deeper routes. Foster left Pullard in the dust and streaked to the endzone, and Bowman was far too slow in reading the play — leading to the easy touchdown.With sophomore Su’a Cravens — who rarely played in nickel situations — officially moving to outside linebacker, safety play has been as issue for the Trojans this season. Freshman John Plattenburg is challenging Bowman and sophomore Leon McQuay III for a starting spot, a late-season position battle that could shake the confidence of all three players. Shaw, who saw action at safety in 2012 and 2013, could have shifted back to that role this season when needed.Freshman Adoree’ Jackson’s emergence aside, USC has also struggled at cornerback. After the Trojans extended their lead over the Sun Devils to 34-25, Bercovici immediately found wideout Cameron Smith for a 73-yard touchdown. Smith beat junior cornerback Kevon Seymour to the sideline on the play, an excusable — if untimely — error. But Seymour compounded his mistake by diving for an interception instead of continuing his pursuit, allowing Smith to break free for the score. This is the type of result that Shaw, even by his presence alone, could have altered. Who knows what type of leadership and advice the senior captain could have a brought to his teammates in a late-game situation. I won’t say USC would’ve won the game with Shaw on the field, but the secondary would’ve been a lot calmer and smarter.Funny enough, the fourth quarter tends to be where the Trojans’ secondary falls apart in tough games. Just a week after giving up 239 yards and three touchdowns to Bercovici in only three drives, the unit allowed Arizona gunslinger Anu Solomon to put up a 16-of-29, 177 yard, one touchdown fourth-quarter stat line. Utah’s Travis Wilson — who remains the Pac-12’s second-worst starting quarterback in terms of yards and completion percentage — went 5-of-9 for 46 yards and a game-winning touchdown in his team’s final possession against USC. Even in last week’s 38-30 win over Cal, Bears quarterback Jared Goff threw for 113 yards and two scores in the final frame after scrapping for just one touchdown over the game’s first three quarters.Though this is a trend that USC cannot afford to continue, it’s also one that Shaw’s mere presence could affect. The Trojans’ front seven looked lost without team captain Pullard in the lineup for the first half of the Boston College matchup, and the secondary has looked similarly lost late in certain games. If head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox are looking for a solution to this problem, plugging in Shaw is the way to go.Will Hanley is a junior majoring in political science and communication. His column, “Sports Willustrated,” runs Thursdays.last_img

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