- Associated Press - Thursday, September 10, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - If Southern California had allowed 1.8 more yards per game last season, it would have supplanted the 2003 edition as the worst pass defense in school history.

Comparing that defense with its 2014 counterpart, however, would be a mistake.

In 2003, coach Pete Carroll’s Trojans were so dominant that opponents had to throw the ball in a futile attempt to get back into the game, totaling 276.2 yards per game. On the way to the AP national championship, USC had 22 interceptions and allowed 18 touchdown passes.

Last season, USC surrendered 274.5 yards per game and six more scores than takeaways, including last-second touchdown passes in losses to Arizona State and Utah that swung the Pac-12 South.

Holding Arkansas State under 200 yards through the air and no touchdowns in last weekend’s season opener represented significant progress for the eighth-ranked Trojans.

“I think we did well,” sophomore safety Chris Hawkins said. “There are some things we can clean up. Before the fourth quarter I think they only had like 86 passing yards, 40-something at halftime.”

Placing a greater emphasis on rotating players throughout the defense this season to avoid late-game struggles, USC used all nine available defensive backs. That extensive rotation would have been in place even if top cornerback Adoree Jackson was not sidelined in the first half because of a strained abdominal muscle, defensive backs coach Keith Hayward said.

The plan is to continue a more even distribution of playing time this week against Idaho and beyond.

“It’s not about the opponent,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “It’s about getting guys in the game that can help us win the game. It doesn’t matter if we’re in practice, whether we’re playing the first game, the second game or the eighth game, we want to be able to do that. You’ll see more of the same.”

But a game against the overmatched Vandals, who are 43-point underdogs, should offer plenty of chances for a young group to continue to prepare for Pac-12 play. Seven of the nine defensive backs who played against Arkansas State are freshmen or sophomores, including starters Hawkins, Jackson and John Plattenburg.

The focus against Idaho is to “just do our jobs,” Hawkins said. “We all know that they are not the heck of a group that we are going to see from here on out, but we can’t look at them like that. We have to look at them as if they are the best, as if we’re playing Ohio State or Alabama, so that we can do our jobs and create turnovers.”

Hawkins accounted for two takeaways in his first start at safety, intercepting a pass in the red zone to snuff out a drive and recovering a fumble. It was a gratifying debut at a new position after struggling and losing his starting job at corner after four games last season.

“I had my bumps here and there, but I would say my transition went well,” Hawkins said.

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