Nickell Robey led the team in interceptions as a true freshman last season, but this year the well seemed dry until he picked off Notre Dame's Tommy Rees last week.
Then he followed up last week with a pick-six against Andrew Luck in the fourth quarter that kept the Trojans in the game in their 56-48 triple-overtime loss.
"This whole season sometimes I just felt like I wasn't doing enough, but the coaches were telling me that I was giving my all and that there was nothing more that I could do. He just told me to keep working," said Robey.
The sophomore corner is currently third on the team in tackles with 41 (he had 48 total last season), but for a while he felt like he was just treading water.
"Coaches tell me to just keep working and keep working and sooner or later I'm going to have those opportunities."
Sure enough, opportunity knocked in the two biggest games of the season so far, and Robey was there to answer it.
"I had patience. I kept studying film hard, working on my technique, always making sure my eyes are trained right because that's what's most important and all of that just paid off the last two weeks for me."
And it seems to have had a ripple effect on the steadily improving USC defense.
"I think that's really been a part of our improvement on defense is Nickell playing well," said head coach Lane Kiffin. "Then also the last two games, matching them up on their guys and he's really taken those guys out of the game and out of rhythm and obviously two huge fourth quarter interceptions that almost win both games for us. He's just playing at a really high level and it's great to see for a kid that's a true sophomore."
What Kiffin also might think is great is the fact that Nickell, at only 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, has managed to shut down several over-six-foot NFL caliber receivers, such as Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Arizona's Juron Criner. In fact, the latter matchup led to a new nickname for Robey.
"I was talking with a friend and it was the Arizona game and I had to go against Criner so I was like I need to have a zero tolerance policy."
Nickell "Zero Tolerance" Robey held Criner to one touchdown and 29 yards receiving. Floyd only managed 28 yards receiving and zero touchdowns. Those numbers have silenced a few critics that have been questioning his abilities nearly every week.
"It gets real boring to hear them after a while because I am consistently proving myself."
When Kiffin was asked why he thought his diminutive corner could take down men with such a height advantage, he didn't reference the 40-inch vertical leap or his 40 time of approximately 4.4 seconds - even though that probably has something to do with it.
"His heart," said Kiffin. "He plays so hard. Even look at his touchdown. He sprints all the way around the Coliseum it seems like after his touchdown. But that's how he practices. That's who he is since we met him when he was a junior in high school. He's just a great kid."
That even gave Robey a warm and fuzzy feeling when he found out his coach thought that he was just as good of a person as he was a player. Maybe it's because that is the legacy his mother - who died of a massive heart attack weeks after Robey signed with USC - left him two years ago. It's no secret around the Trojans' program that he plays for her and for his Trojan family that helped fill the hole in his own heart by her sudden departure.
"By that happening, that just gives me more enthusiasm to be more of a leader. It just makes me feel good on the inside."
Robey says what's made the biggest difference for him and the USC defense is doing things the "Trojan Way."
"Show up early, ready. Start fast. Compete hard on balls. Make no excuses. Finish what you start. Stand tall. Big chances. Big eyes," recited Robey from memory.
"We are SC. Fight on."