Dion Bailey

Hawaii's Donnie King Jr. is upended in front of USC safety Dion Bailey during the Trojans' win on Thursday. Bailey likely will see plenty of action Saturday against pass-happy Washington State. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 29, 2013)

The view was completely different, but for Dion Bailey the result nearly the same.

Bailey, a two-year starting linebacker for USC, led the Trojans in interceptions in 2012. This season, he switched to safety, moving him farther from the bustle of the line of scrimmage.

Bailey still led the team in tackles and came up with one of USC's four interceptions during the Trojans' 30-13 season-opening victory over Hawaii.

"It was fun to be able to see a lot more and get around on the field," Bailey said. "It was a lot easier not having to go through traffic like you have to in the front seven."

Bailey's move to safety was only one of several position changes spurred by new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's "52" scheme.

Former ends Devon Kennard, Morgan Breslin and Jabari Ruffin now play as hybrid linebackers. Leonard Williams, a freshman All-American last season at tackle, is playing end.

But installing Bailey in what had been regarded as a suspect secondary might prove the most important change for a defense that carried the Trojans against Hawaii — and might have to do so the rest of the season.

On Saturday, USC will be challenged when pass-happy Washington State visits the Coliseum for a Pac-12 Conference opener.

Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown in a 31-24 loss at Auburn. Halliday also had three passes intercepted, a fact not lost on Bailey.

"This is a game where our defense as a whole can make a statement," he said.

Pendergast, who also coaches the secondary, described Bailey as "a high football IQ guy" and "a work in progress" at both safety and nickel back.

But Bailey brings experience to his new assignment.

He came to USC from Lakewood High, where he roamed the middle of the field as a safety.

After Bailey was a redshirt in 2010, former defensive assistant Monte Kiffin moved the 6-foot, 200-pound Bailey to linebacker, where he matched up against linemen and tight ends 80 to 100 pounds heavier. Bailey was the co-leader in tackles in 2011 and had a team-best four interceptions last season.

However, playing in "the box" — the area between the defensive linemen and linebackers — took its toll.

"In the box, things are about 10 times faster," he said. "I had to learn how to use my speed to avoid just getting physically abused."

And with NFL aspirations to play safety, Bailey welcomed the return to the secondary.

Asked how the view of a linebacker and safety differs, Bailey broke down a running play.

As a linebacker, on a running play to the left side, a right offensive guard might pull to lead the way for a running back. The linebacker must "get over the top" to track down the ballcarrier.

For Bailey, playing behind defensive linemen such as the 6-5 Williams, that created a challenge.