Leonard Williams, pressuring Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
USC's defense did not enjoy much positive attention during the previous three seasons.
But new coordinator Clancy Pendergast has infused the unit with a scheme and an attitude that have helped the Trojans statistically rank among the nation's best after three games.
Junior safety Dion Bailey said Wednesday that it was "a little different" for USC to be considered one of the sport's top defenses.
"I'm pretty sure no one's heard that around here since Cushing and them were here," he said.
Bailey was referring to USC's 2008 defense, which featured linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, both 2009 first-round NFL draft picks, and six other 2009 draftees.
USC finished the 2008 season ranked first nationally in scoring defense and pass defense, second in total defense and fifth in rushing defense.
"That defense definitely had the certain mentality that they were the best defense in the country and no one was going to get anywhere on them," Bailey said. "And that's the kind of mentality that we're taking here."
USC ranks second nationally in rushing defense, third in sacks and fourth in total defense. The Trojans are sixth in interceptions, tackles for losses and pass-efficiency defense and eighth in scoring defense.
USC has a 2-1 record after facing Hawaii, Washington State and Boston College, which rank 121st, 77th and 113th, respectively, among 123 major-college teams in total offense.
On Saturday, the Trojans play a Utah State team that ranks eighth in scoring (49.3 points per game) and 12th in total offense (550.3 yards per game).
Bailey noted that USC is playing against more spread offenses than the 2008 Trojans, who faced more pro-style systems.
The final comparison will be made at season's end.
"We understand we've got to show up week in and week out," Bailey said, "and we've got to produce."
Senior safety Demetrius Wright is on track to start a third consecutive game.
Wright started for the first time against Washington State because Josh Shaw moved to cornerback. Wright, a former Corona High standout, made six tackles, and followed up that performance by making a team-best seven against Boston College.
In the flow
Receiver De'Von Flournoy had only one career catch going into the Boston College game.
The fifth-year senior doubled that with two key receptions in the Trojans' 35-7 victory.
Flournoy caught a nine-yard pass from Cody Kessler in the first quarter to help set up the Trojans' first touchdown. He also caught a 13-yard pass from Max Wittek in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown.
Flournoy's role could expand Saturday against Utah State. Freshman receiver Darreus Rogers suffered an apparent ankle injury against Boston College and was on crutches this week.