- Head Coach: Clay Helton (7th Season)
- 2020 Record: 5-1 (5-1 in Pac-12)
- Last Meeting: 11/3/18 - USC 38, Oregon State 21
- Key Returners: QB - Kedon Slovis, WR - Drake London, LB - Drake Jackson
The bad news for USC heading into the Fall of 2021 is that their offense, headlined by quarterback star and NFL prospect Kedon Slovis, should be the bright spot of their roster and simply isn’t. After all, head coach Clay Helton has a signature piece in Slovis, a room of tailbacks that would make any head coach sleep well at night, a solid receiving core and oh yeah, four returning starting offensive linemen. Yet still, in their Spring Game, it was USC’s defense who stole the show with eight sacks and a few picks to leave many wondering if the hype for this group isn’t warranted just yet.
Obviously, on the offensive side of things, it begins and ends with Slovis, who tossed for a ridiculous 1,921 yards and 17 scores in 2020, all whole completing 67.0% of his passes and leading the squad to a 5-1 mark. However, even those numbers were a drop down from his stellar 2019 campaign and fans in the City of Angels will be hoping a return to true form with a full season will be in play. It’s expected that he won’t be the issue in the team’s race for Pac-12 crown.
One thing that also should be helping him in that equation (keyword: should) will be the play of his veteran offensive line, who was expected to anchor this group, but had a bad day some days ago in their first outing of the year. In order to protect Slovis and open the run game up for guys like Stephen Carr, Texas transfer Keontay Ingram and Vavae Malepeai out of the backfield, the big boys up front must do a better job. Losing left tackle Alijah-Vera Tucker to the NFL cannot remain the narrative for this group all-season. They simply have to turn it on come Saturdays.
And then you hit the receivers, where even with with Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown off to the next level, the Trojans have one of the best receiving rooms in the conference. Wide receiver Drake London is featured below in our “Player to Watch” for very good reason, as he’s a looming big-play waiting to happen and also, such a serviceable blend of steadiness and reliability in the passing game. The Trojans have every option in their stable to be the team that everyone looks at in the Pac-12 and wants to take down. How they do that is seemingly becoming the bigger issue under Helton, who has been known to underperform with expectations.
Moving to the defensive side of things, remember the name Drake Jackson, as the edge rusher/linebacker will be a household one come this Fall. The 6’ 4”, 255-pounder had 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks en route to a 2020 All-Pac-12 season last year and I think he’s in store for even a more productive and disruptive 2021 campaign with the nation’s top defensive end in Korey Foreman also joining the fold.
In the second go-round under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, things need to improve despite the crucial departures of safety Talanoa Hufanga, cornerback Olaijah Griffin and defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu. However, a linebacking grouping that features Kana’i Mauga, the team’s second leading tackler a season ago and Ralen Goforth should be a go-round for the better.
Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao is also a budding star, who defended 5 passes and somehow recovered 3 fumbles last year.
So can the Beavers do it? Can Oregon State channel their best 2008 throwback and derail a Trojans group in the fourth game of the season? The keys to this one may be keeping the heat on that offensive line to make Slovis uncomfortable and not allowing a take-away happy defense to live up their billing. If they can protect the football and do just that, they have a puncher’s chance in this one.
Player To Watch
Drake London - Wide Receiver
Essentially, all the stars are aligned for Drake London to have a stellar campaign. The Trojans’ top two receiving talents (2nd and 3rd in yardage) from 2020 have moved onto the NFL and the wide receivers room is now led by him, after posting 33 catches for 502 yards and 3 scores last year. London is a complete game-changer who can make catches at each level, rise up and grab the ball over a guy or run a route across the middle and snag a ball. He’s the complete package who will play on Sundays someday soon. Oregon State needs to lock in on him the whole game.
- Date: Saturday, September 25th
- Time: TBD
- Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles, California)