USC defensive end Leonard Williams (94) and safety Su’a Cravens combine for a sack of Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici in the first half of last week’s game.

Rich Rodriguez gave it a little thought before he just gave up.

The question: Does USC’s mountain of a man on the defensive line — Leonard Williams — remind Rodriguez of anybody he’s coached against previously?

“Yeah,” Rodriguez said with a grin, “Leonard Williams from last year.”

It’s not easy comparing USC’s 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound junior defensive end to anybody.

He reacts fast enough to snag an interception and return it. He’s strong enough to knock over your biggest offensive lineman. He’s quick enough to get around your fastest.

In other words, he’s got welterweight speed in a heavyweight frame.

“You’re talking about a guy who is 6-5, 300 pounds, that’s as fast as our skill players,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a first-rounder, and he’s going to playing for a long time.”

A first-rounder? Try a top-five pick.

In his latest rankings, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Williams as the fourth-best prospect in the draft class, right behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota — a player the Wildcats had to deal with last week.

Williams has 30 tackles through USC’s first five games. He’s added 2½ tackles-for-loss, two sacks, an interception and two pass breakups.

Of Williams, Kiper wrote: “At his size, … he’s a special athlete who could line up as a defensive end and drive a tackle back, or line up on the outside shoulder of a guard and create problems with power and quickness, as well. He’s the kind of disruptive, versatile lineman who can succeed in any system. A potential No. 1 pick.”


But Arizona’s offensive linemen don’t need Kiper to tell them they’re going to have their hands full Saturday.

“You don’t see guys like that all the time, thankfully,” Rodriguez said. “No one sees that kind of guy every week, so we have to be really, really good technique-wise. He’s going to beat you sometimes, and you have to understand that and know that, but you don’t want him to beat you because you’re being sloppy with your technique.”

One reason Rodriguez may be so high on Williams is because of the defensive lineman’s performance against the UA last season.

Williams led USC with 12 tackles, combined on a sack, and was disruptive and annoying for four quarters.

When the UA offensive linemen began preparing for Saturday night’s game, Williams was where they started.

“Obviously I think he’s a really good player; I think he’s the best player on their defense,” guard Jacob Alsadek said. “He swims (moves) a lot, so he does make people look dumb. I’ve noticed that about him as I’ve watched film. He’s athletic. He has a high motor. He’s going to be a good test.”

All that said, Alsadek is with Rodriguez. It’s not as much about Williams as it is about Arizona.

“We really just have to worry about ourselves,” Alsadek said. “I know we have to stick to what we can do. If we do that, we’ll be successful. Especially for a guy like him who likes to swim, it really helps if you just use your hands and do the stuff they teach us to do.”

Williams lines up in different spots for the Trojans, so most of the UA linemen will get a chance at him. Arizona could be down starting left guard Cayman Bundage, who is questionable for the game with a knee injury he suffered against Oregon. If Bundage can’t go, Lene Maiava, who filled in for Bundage when he went down, will likely get the start.

“You can have a guy assigned to him, and sometimes two guys assigned to him, but he’ll use a swim or rip or use athletic moves,” Rodriguez said. “He’s strong enough he doesn’t have to use his athleticism, he can bull-rush you, too. He’s got all the things you want for a dominant D-lineman.”

Extra points

  • Walk-on freshman quarterback Zach Werlinger was named one of five National Football Foundation National High School Scholar-Athlete honorees on Thursday. A product of Chandler Basha High School, Werlinger had a 4.56 weighted GPA, and was named first-team all-academic all-state his senior year. He will travel to New York in December to be honored at a luncheon.
  • Linebacker DeAndre’ Miller will miss Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. It has kept him out of the past two games. … Running back Nick Wilson, who left the Oregon game with an ankle injury, is questionable.

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.