Why did USC struggle recruiting defensive backs in the 2023 cycle?

USC missed out on quite a few defensive back targets during the 2023 recruiting cycle

It’s no secret that Lincoln Riley and USC missed out on quite a few defensive back targets during the 2023 recruiting cycle. The Trojans offered roughly 20 cornerbacks and safeties rated higher than their “gets,” likely indicating they had to move down the board more than they would have liked. 

USC signed Pacifica (Oxnard, Calif.) 4-star cornerback Maliki Crawford and 3-star Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) safety Christian Pierce in December, but the Trojans failed to land defensive backs Peyton Bowen, Rodrick Pleasant and Daylen Austin last cycle. In the 2024 class, USC has already lost out on the Peyton Woodyard sweepstakes — the 4-star St. John Bosco (Calif.) safety committed to the University of Georgia last month. 


No matter how you slice it, USC’s defense struggled last season – especially at the tail end of the year. In the Trojans’ final two games, the unit gave up over 1,000 yards of offense in two losses to Utah in the Pac-12 championship and then to Tulane in the Cotton Bowl. Against Tulane, USC gave up 16 points in the final 4:07 to lose 46-45.

Last year’s issues on defense had at least one high profile high school recruit wondering about the future of defensive backs coach Donte Williams. 

“Donte was the guy he liked, but is he going to be there next year?” a source familiar with the players recruitment told SI All Trojans. “What’s going to happen next?”

USC has added some impact defensive players from the transfer portal and the Trojans bring back a lot of talent as well. The defense could look a lot different next season, but right now last year’s poor defensive performances are hurting USC on the recruiting trail. 

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