1. It was no season of triumph for the USC defense. The Trojans, picked No. 1 overall to start the season, completed the regular season ranked 45th in scoring defense and 63rd in total defense.
Regardless, Georgia Tech, which plays USC in the Sun Bowl Dec. 31, sees a defense teeming with talent. Safety T.J. McDonald and outside linebacker Hayes Pullard in particular caught the attention of quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon, who said the two “have stood out as awfully talented players.”
McDonald is “big and he plays all over the field,” quarterback Vad Lee said. “That’s somebody we’ll definitely have to look for.”
McDonald, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior, was an All-America as a junior and will likely be one of the top players at his position in the NFL draft. McDonald was one of nine USC defensive players receiving All-Pac-12 first-team, second-team or honorable mention recognition. Pullard, a freshman All-America last season, was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention. Defensive end Leonard Williams was selected the Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year.
Bohannon favorably compared the USC defense with Tech’s past two opponents, Georgia and Florida State. Those teams held Tech to a combined 25 points. Six of USC’s listed defensive starters are freshmen or sophomores.
“They’re good now, but in a year or so, they’re going to be really, really good,” Bohannon said.
2. Safety Isaiah Johnson is probably out for the Sun Bowl, coach Paul Johnson said after practice Tuesday. He suffered an undisclosed injury in a seven-on-seven drill in a recent practice. Isaiah Johnson has started 26 consecutive games, going back to the start of the 2011 season.
It is no small loss. Johnson was one of the team’s most improved defensive players and is the team tackles leader with 87 total stops.
“He was really playing well, so you really feel bad for him,” Johnson said.
Potential replacements include Chris Milton, Jamal Golden and Demond Smith. Golden started five games at the start of the season at safety due to injuries to other players.
Offensive tackle Ray Beno returned to practice Tuesday after having surgery to repair a broken finger. Outside linebacker Brandon Watts, who has been out with an undisclosed injury, is expected to return Wednesday.
3. Johnson hired David Walkosky in February as his first special-teams coordinator to coach only special teams. He added defensive line responsibilities midseason when defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired. Asked Tuesday if Walkosky will return to his original special teams-only status, Johnson said “possibly.”
Johnson gave mixed reviews to the special teams this season, saying the return game had improved but the punt team in particular lagged. As he has said in response to questions about hiring a full-time defensive coordinator, Johnson said he will address it after the bowl game. Charles Kelly has been serving as the interim coordinator. Johnson’s coordinator hire could also impact Walkosky’s status.
4. According to media reports, USC quarterback Matt Barkley has not been practicing and is not expected to return until the Trojans’ first practice in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 26. Barkley suffered a shoulder injury in the Nov. 17 loss to UCLA. With the draft upcoming, it’s conceivable Barkley could sit out even if cleared to play. On the depth chart, Barkley and Max Wittek are listed as co-starters.
Wittek started in place of Barkley against Notre Dame in USC’s final regular-season game, completing 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog