Coming into 2012, the Trojans had the makings of one of America's premiere defenses, returning eight starters from a unit that ranked 30th in the nation in total defense last year. However, they've experienced their share of misfires so far, especially against opposing passing attacks, as their passing defense ranks in the nation's lower half. Considering that Bishop Sankey will be hard-pressed to continue his streak of rushing for more more than 100 yards in three straight games against one of the conference's best run defenses, Washington will probably rely on Keith Price breaking out of his 2012 funk and resembling his sophomore phenom self in order to keep this game close throughout.
Defensive Line: Like most parts of their defense, USC is dealing with some serious depth issues, with four freshman featured on the defensive line's two-deep. They do have upper-classmen leaders, though, in defensive ends Morgan Breslin, pictured above, and Wes Horton, a 2011 second-team all-conference player. Breslin in particular is having a banner year, as the junior college transfer has registered 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, the former of which ranks sixth in the nation. One player to keep an eye on is true freshman Leonard Williams, a four-star recruit who had the best game of his young career against Cal when he sacked Zach Maynard twice and made three stops in the backfield.
Linebacker: The Trojans linebacking corps is led by Dion Bailey, the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and one of the premiere names on the watch list for this year's Butkus Award, presented annually to the nation's best linebacker. Bailey is off to a strong start this season, leading the team in solo tackles (23) and interceptions (3), while fellow sophomores Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson have done a good job of swarming to the ball, registering 32 and 24 total tackles so far, respectively. The impressive play of this unit is no doubt a key component of USC's stingy allowance of just 112 rushing yards per game.
Cornerback: USC starts a pair of juniors at the cornerback position in Nickell Robey and Torin Harris. The undersized Robey in particular is one to keep an eye one: He finished 2011 as a second-team All-American and first-team all-conference player despite his 5'8", 165 lb. frame, and was named to the Thorpe Award watch list for this season's best defensive back. The stat line for both starting CBs has been relatively quiet thus far, and the team's 62nd-ranked pass defense suggests that this week offers as good a chance as any for Keith Price to finally get into a rhythm with his receiving corps.
Safety: The Trojans are unquestionably led at this position by senior All-American T.J. McDonald, a 2011 first-team all-conference selection whose season thus far includes one pick and a team-leading 38 tackles. He is joined in the backfield by another senior and returning starter, Jawanza Starling, who has snagged two picks and broken up as many passes this year.