2017 Rose Bowl: Michael Hutchings, Cameron Smith anchor stout USC defense
CARSON, Calif. – The men in the middle of USC’s defense carry a lot of weight these days.
Checking in at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds is sophomore Cameron Smith, who piled up a team-best 79 tackles this season. On game days, Smith is flanked by the team’s second-leading tackler Michael Hutchings, who’s listed at 6-foot-1, 215. But aside from their brawn, the inside linebackers bring some brains to the operation as well.
“It’s always nice to have somebody extremely dependable playing right next to you,” Hutchings said. “I’m always happy whenever Cam makes plays, which is often. Playing next to him is great. It’s just like having another defensive coordinator out there with him on the field.”
When Hutchings takes the field on Monday afternoon against Penn State in the 103rd edition of the Rose Bowl, it’ll be his final time suiting up for the Trojans. After earning a captain’s role heading into the season, Hutchings has racked up a career-high 64 tackles in 12 starts.
Listening to USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, Hutchings’ impact has gone beyond the box score.
“Mike is really our ringleader,” Pendergast said. “He’s our quarterback of the defense out there. He has had an exceptional year. There’s not a guy on our defense that I’m prouder of than Mike. Just because of this being his first year to play very much. But he’s allowed us to do some things defensively because he’s able to handle it on the field.”
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Unfortunately, Hutchings’ biggest fan, his late father, won’t be in Pasadena to watch the game. Michael Hutchings, Sr., passed away nearly three years ago, shortly after his son started his college career. Now as he gets set for his USC finale, Hutchings has carved out a major leadership role with his squad.
“It’s an honor to stand next to him this entire season,” Smith said. “Such a great guy. So many people look up to him and he’s really the leader of our team. I’ve learned so many things from him, not even just football, but just from life and what he’s had to come back from and what he’s done with his career. It’s really cool to just stand next to him on his last game and hope we can pull out with a win for him.”
While the offense has deservedly earned acclaim during USC’s current eight-game win streak, the defense has done its part, too. Since the streak started, the Trojans have held six of their eight opponents to their lowest respective point totals of the year, en route to allowing an average of 18.6 points per game. The rush defense has been particularly stout in the past eight contests, giving up 103.1 yards per game on the ground.
But Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley figures to be a tough man to slow down in Pasadena. Listed at 5-foot-11, 223 pounds, the powerful Barkley racked up 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground this year while adding 23 catches for 347 yards and three scores.
“I think it’s going to be a fun game for us and for him, as well,” Smith said of facing Barkley. “We’re going to go out there and take care of what we need to take care of. He can do a lot with the football. He’s a great back, a complete back.”
USC’s secondary, led by All-American cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, is more concerned about talented dual-threat PSU quarterback Trace McSorley. The signal-caller has 3,360 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions along with 352 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. McSorley’s top target is wideout Chris Godwin, who led the Nittany Lions with 795 yards and nine touchdown receptions.
“They’ve got a running back they can hand the ball off to and that will open up his pass game,” Jackson said. “If you lock everything up on the outside in the pass game, he can move with his feet. So, it’s about being disciplined, staying controlled and make sure we understand what he likes to do and just try to affect him as much as possible.”