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Marino | USC LB Uchenna Nwosu Breaking Out on Trojans Defense

SEP 23 USC at Cal
Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Marino | USC LB Uchenna Nwosu Breaking Out on Trojans Defense

The buzz around the 4-0 USC Trojans seems to be centered around the offensive stars.

QB Sam Darnold is thought of as a potential No. 1 overall pick, RB Ronald Jones is making dazzling runs and WR Deontay Burnett is hauling in highlight-reel catches in crucial situations. With that said, the Trojan’s defense has tightened up when it was most needed and the catalysts behind that is senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.

FanRag Sports’ college football analysts Kyle Kensing did a terrific job of detailing Nwosu’s defensive efforts through four games and the impact he has made. 

Nwosu recovered a fumble deep in Golden Bears territory with USC holding onto a tenuous, three-point lead in the fourth quarter. The linebacker’s quick reaction and hustle set up an easy Trojans touchdown, beginning a final-period onslaught that allowed them to pull away — and move to 4-0, USC’s best start in seven years.

Recovering a fumble wasn’t all Nwosu did. His batted pass gave him eight pass breakups this season.

Nwosu’s place among the nation’s best in that category is noteworthy. He’s defending passes with the proficiency of a defensive back, recording far and away more breakups than any other linebacker in college football.

The senior’s versatility has become a key component of a USC defense that, for two consecutive weeks, carried the Trojans much of the way to victory.

Nwosu and Co. held Texas out of the end zone for more than 59 minutes of regulation in Week 3, and Saturday’s second-half lockdown in the Trojans’ second Pac-12 win of the season was very much like that of their first conference victory over Stanford.

USC’s defense came out of intermission in both contests nastier, with more of an edge, giving the offense opportunity to turn nip-and-tuck contests into double-digit final margins. Against Cal, four fourth-quarter turnovers, with the Nwosu-led front seven applying consistent pressure on Golden Bears quarterback Ross Bowers, made the difference.

Nwosu is emerging as one of college football’s most disruptive defenders. While Kyle explained what Nwosu has done this season, I evaluated his game tape from a scouting perspective and came away impressed. Nwosu has showcased numerous traits that has him climbing up draft boards. Let’s examine.

Among the many ways Nwossu has been disruptive this season is by deflecting passes which speaks to Nwosu’s football intelligence. When pass rushers either cannot generate pressure on the QB or the offense is executing quick game, a smart pass rusher will get hands his hands up and deflect the ball at the line of scrimmage. With eight pass brekaups in four games, Nwosu has mastered this concept. On this rep, Nwosu recognizes the quick set and gets his hands up to close the passing window.

Entering Saturday’s contest against Cal, PFF credited Nwosu with 15 qb pressures. This rep shows one of the many ways he has been able to get after the QB this season.

Firing out of his stance with low pads, Nwosu reaches the offensive tackles outside hip by step three. In getting there, Nwosu understands the importance of keeping separation from the offensive tackles hands. Listed at 6’2”, 240 pounds, Nwosu cannot get caught going toe-to-toe with offensive lineman. An outside step coupled with a hand swipe keeps the RT’s hands off him and a rip move back underneath to shake the blocker launches his angle to work back the quarterback. Nwosu again shows off his intelligence by not continuing up the field once on the same level as the QB but instead, positions himself to impact the play.

On this following rep, Nwosu combines burst with technique to generate pressure. From a standup position, Nwosu wisely attacks half a man but the timing in his hand swipe is what allows him to get the edge and apply pressure. He takes a tight angle to the QB and hurries the throw, resulting in an incompletion.

It’s clear that Nwosu can win around the edge but he’s also savvy when attacking interior gaps. As soon as the RT commits to defending the outside, Nwosu perfectly times his inside move when the RT sets outside. From there, Nwosu gets skinny through the gap by reducing his surface area and plays through contact to force a hurried, inaccurate throw.

This example of Nwosu attacking an interior gap highlights his leverage, twitch, hand technique and play strength. His attack is executed with precise timing to set up the inside move. His quickness, pad level and strength powers him through the gap to again force a hurried throw.

Oh by the way, Nwosu can defend the run.

EDGE defenders must be able to set a firm edge, fight pressure with pressure and squeeze down. This rep is a terrific showcase of his ability to do just that. Nwosu wins the rep by quickly establishing inside hand placement with a perfectly timed punch. From there he continues to work his hands to control the block and squeeze the c-gap. If the 3-technique didn’t get blown off the ball then this would have been a tackle right around the line of scrimmage. Notice how  he plays through the block.

I highlighted Nwosu’s intelligence as a pass rusher but his technical skills are also present when defending the run.

Showing a complete understanding of his role on this rep, Nwosu perfectly takes on the block to help bottle up the run. When the OT blocks down, Nwosu knows a kickout block is coming. Nwosu resists flying up the field, stays close and wrong arms the fullback by properly using his outside arm and 25 replaces the contain responsibility. Nwosu is smart and technically refined in all-aspects.

Nwosu is turning heads with his performance early this season and the Trojan’s need him to continue performing at this level to compliment the offensive talent they have. If he does, you can be assured USC will remain in the CFB playoff picture and Nwosu will become a hot commodity for the 2018 Draft.

NDT Scouting National Scout’s Jonah Tuls and Scott Bischoff have also been impressed with Nwosu:

Jonah Tuls

There is no other way to say this: Uchenna Nwosu was the best defensive player in the game for either team on Saturday night. That is saying something, considering the talent on both sides. Not only was he able to consistently win the corner and bend around the edge seamlessly while rushing the passer, but he also used this smooth athleticism to deflect multiple passes at the LOS as well. Another aspect of his pass rush portfolio that we have not yet seen from Gustin this season is a killer inside move. Nwosu has already abused both Western Michigan and Stanford with inside counters and speed off of the edge. In addition, he sets the edge well in the run game and hustles until the whistle blows. I have a serious draft crash on Nwosu just for his competitive toughness alone. Get on the hype train while you can. 

Scott Bischoff

Nwosu is gumby-like in that he can really bend. He has an outstanding first step which threatens the corner, and he uses that quickness all over the field. He had a tackle for loss after turning the corner and attacking the ball carrier. Nwosu is so quick that he can force tackles to overset and that opens the door for the inside move, and a spin move on top of that. He can set the edge versus the run and does a good job of squeezing plays back inside. He has excellent instincts to find the ball consistently or to get his hands up into a throwing lane to knock down a pass. Nwosu continues to be a dominant player for USC.

Joe Marino

Marino began his career as the Assistant Editor for USA Today Digital Properties Draft Sites Network in 2011. A member of the FWAA, Marino writes about the NFL, College Football and NFL Draft for FanRag Sports.

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