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USC fires defensive coordinator Alex Grinch with 2 games left in regular season

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Southern California fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch on Sunday with two games left in the Trojans’ disappointing regular season.

Head coach Lincoln Riley dropped his longtime top assistant one day after USC (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) gave up 572 yards and 52 points to No. 5 Washington in the Trojans’ third loss in four games.

USC’s defense has played poorly for the past six games, and the Trojans have fallen out of the College Football Playoff race after a 6-0 start despite a prolific offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams. USC was unranked in Sunday’s AP Top 25 for the first time in Riley’s two-year tenure at the school.

Defensive line coach Shaun Nua and inside linebackers Coach Brian Odom will serve as USC’s co-defensive coordinators for the remainder of the season, which includes games against Oregon and UCLA before a bowl game. Taylor Mays, the former USC safety who has been a defensive analyst this season, was promoted to an on-field role working with the Trojans’ safeties.

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Grinch became Riley’s defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2019, and he followed Riley to Los Angeles in late 2021. But Grinch’s defenses have repeatedly lagged behind Riley’s high-scoring offenses at both schools, and this season’s unit at USC has been thoroughly ineffective despite an influx of talent from the transfer portal.

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USC has allowed 42.0 points and 483.7 yards per game over its past six contests. The Trojans have fallen to 119th out of the 130 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season with 436.9 yards per game allowed, and they’re ranked 121st with 34.5 points per game allowed.

USC’s last three games have been particularly grim for the defense and disheartening for its fans, who have filled social media for several weeks with calls for Grinch’s ouster.

Southern California head coach Lincoln Riley stands on the sideline against California during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

Southern California head coach Lincoln Riley stands on the sideline against California during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

The Trojans gave up 482 yards to Utah two weeks ago and lost on a field goal at the gun when they couldn’t stop a game-winning drive by backup quarterback Bryson Barnes. USC then surrendered 527 yards to an unimpressive California offense and barely escaped Berkeley with a 50-49 victory.

Grinch’s first USC defense also struggled, particularly down the stretch while the Trojans lost their final two games. Those Trojans allowed 415.1 yards and 27.9 points per game, giving up 533 yards in their Pac-12 title game loss to Utah before blowing a 15-point lead in the final five minutes of the Cotton Bowl by allowing two long TD drives by Tulane, which racked up 539 yards.

Riley defiantly stuck with Grinch in the offseason over calls for his ouster from the same boosters who paid top dollar to secure Riley’s arrival — but the Trojans’ defense only got worse this season.

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Riley and Grinch both spent time as assistants to Mike Leach, and their friendship appeared to bond them as much as their shared coaching lineage. Riley also clearly saw the defense’s failings as much more than Grinch’s fault, believing he shared responsibility as the Trojans’ head coach.

Immediately after Grinch’s group was shredded by the Huskies on Saturday night, Riley said he was “not into the big-picture questions right now. My job is to go try to beat Oregon next week and to coach what we have.”

About 12 hours later, Riley announced the move while the Trojans still have an outside chance to stay in the Pac-12 title race by upsetting the Ducks in Eugene on Saturday.

USC also must look ahead to next season, when its move to the Big Ten seems to present a need for more hard-nosed play to win in a conference with several defense-first teams and what’s perceived as a more physical mindset.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football