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USC’s secondary, exposed by local kid Cameron Rising, remains a primary problem

Cameron Rising delivered the final blow with his legs, one last sand-kicking in the face of an overmatched defense, but the Utah quarterback’s arm was what left USC shattered in Utah’s commanding 42-26 victory at the Coliseum on Saturday, the Utes’ first victory in Los Angeles since the Woodrow Wilson administration.

(For the record, that’s 18 U.S. presidents ago.)

“It’s like he couldn’t miss,” USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao said, echoing the sentiment of his coach, Donte Williams.

Rising said after the game that USC’s light interest in him during recruiting made the victory especially sweet. The Ventura native and Newbury Park High graduate led Utah (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12 Conference) to a season-high 306 passing yards while completing 22 of 28 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

During an extended stretch between the second and third quarters in which the Utes scored touchdowns on four straight drives, Rising completed 13 of 15 passes and threw two touchdowns. The sophomore missed consecutive throws only once in the game, the hiccup coming late it the game with Utah already up by 25.

Utah’s 306 passing yards are the second-most allowed by USC (3-3, 2-3 Pac-12) this year, behind only San Jose State’s 308 in the season opener, when the Spartans were playing from behind. USC gave up five passing plays of 20 yards or more and two more big plays on the ground, including a 43-yard touchdown run from Tavion Thomas.

“We gotta make sure those things don’t happen,” Williams said of Utah’s explosive plays. “Because there were way too many big plays out on that field tonight not in our favor.”

The Trojans defense continues to struggle with tackling. Rising broke through two USC defenders to score on a 17-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, capping a streak of 28 unanswered Utah points. USC defensive back Greg Johnson had both arms wrapped around the Utah quarterback before Rising slipped free and extended his left arm over the goal line.

“We’re there,” safety Chase Williams said, “we attack the point well, we just gotta wrap up and that’s something that we can fix in practice.”

The secondary’s struggles are especially jarring for a team led by a defensive-minded interim coach. Williams was the cornerbacks coach and defensive pass game coordinator before he was promoted to the interim head coaching job.

Leading a team in turmoil has stretched the coach thin, forcing him to pass some of his position coaching responsibilities to Aaron Williams, a defensive graduate assistant. Aaron Williams was a safety for Nebraska in 2017, crossing paths with Donte Williams, who was the Cornhuskers cornerbacks coach at the time.

While he spent the majority of his first practices as the head coach getting up to speed on the offense, Donte Williams is still involved in the defensive meetings.

“He keeps himself involved as much as possible,” Chase Williams said. “He’s always visible, he’s always vocal. He does what he needs to do. He stays with the corners, he’s still their coach, but he’s the head coach of the whole team now so he has a couple of different add-ons”

Since taking over as head coach, Williams has preached accountability. He praised his team’s fight, but acknowledged that just fighting isn’t good enough.

“A lot of things that we changed and the players have stepped up and done it, but at the same time, it’s a process,” Donte Williams said. “The finished product on Saturday, it hasn’t shown the reward in which it should.”

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