After an upset loss to Stanford in Week 2, the Trojans season seemed to have run off the rails early. The school responded by firing head coach Clay Helton, whose tenure with the team had become one of recurring disappointments. Associate head coach Donte Williams stepped in as the interim head coach, and after a rough start week 3 against Washington State, recovered in the second half to blow out the Cougars 45-14. So what can we expect from the Trojans in Oregon State’s Pac-12 opener?
- Record: 2-1 (1-1 Pac-12)
- Current Ranking: Unranked, receiving points in both polls
- Head Coach: Donte Williams (interim)
- Starting QB: Kedon Slovis - 487 yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 126.01 QBR
- Offensive Player to Watch: Wide Receiver Drake London - 375 yards receiving, 3 touchdowns
- Defensive Player to Watch: Outside Linebacker Drake Jackson - 10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
- Points Per Game/Opponents’ Points Per Game: 34.33/21.00
- Last Game/Streak: 45-14 W vs Washington State/ 1W
The biggest question facing the Trojans in Week 4 was who would get the start at quarterback. Kedon Slovis has been the starter for the first three games, but after a neck injury against Wazzu, backup Jaxson Dart entered the game and put on a performance good enough to win the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week award, throwing 391 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Dart came out of that game with a knee injury however, and after x-rays cleared Slovis, he was tabbed for the start on Saturday. Slovis hasn’t lit the world on fire yet this season, but he’s been solid, with a 65% completion rating and 375 yards so far this season. Now that his job is on the line, he could be in for a big game, especially with the Beavers giving up a lot of points in their first two games.
Whoever gets the nod will have a good amount of weapons to work with. Wide Receiver Drake London has been the standout, with 375 yards and three touchdowns, but the team has many threats. Running backs Vavae Malepeai and Keaontay Ingram split carries, with Malepeai at 168 yards and Ingram at 146 and a touchdown so far this season.
Keeping their quarterback upright was an issue for the Trojans last season, but so far that hasn’t been as big of a problem. The team has allowed 3 sacks so far this season, and with the run game in a solid if unexciting place it seems like there’s enough improvement on the Offensive Line for USC to be happy about.
After a slow start to the season, the USC defense finally seemed to find its footing last weekend. They picked up their first three sacks of the season, picked off the Cougars twice and forced two fumbles. That’s a big turnaround from giving up 42 points to Stanford, but it’s going to be tough to repeat that effort against Oregon State.
The big question for the Trojans is how they’ll plan to corral BJ Baylor. USC’s run defense has been shaky, and especially against Stanford looked prone to giving up big plays, in particular Nathaniel Peat’s 87 yard touchdown run. With USC already struggling to generate pressure at the defensive line, matching up against an O Line as veteran as OSU’s could be a big challenge.
The passing game will have a similar tone. Against the Cardinal, USC’s lack of pressure gave Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee more time to find his target, setting up some big plays. Once the USC pass rush started finding holes against Wazzu, the Cougars had less time in the pocket and were less of a big play threat. The battle of the lines is perhaps the biggest one to watch Saturday.
The big name in the Trojans pass rush is OLB/DE Drake Jackson, who is coming off a big game against the Cougars where he picked up a sack, a fumble and 4 tackles. The D Line, especially the tackles went through some changes in the offseason, but DE Tuli Tuipulotu has started to look very impressive.
The Trojans secondary was expected to be the team’s strength on defense, and while they’ve looked very good, they haven’t been unbeatable. Safeties Chase Williams, Calen Bullock and Greg Johnson are 1st, 2nd and 4th on the team in total tackles, with Bullock being especially effective at getting up in a receiver’s business, having picked up an interception against Washington State. Like the rest of the defense, they are still very vulnerable to the big play, and if the Beavers start finding gaps, the Trojans D could get exploited swiftly.
The Trojans are 11 point favorites, and while I love what the Beavers have been doing, that seems a fair spread. USC is just starting to find its rhythm, and while there seems to be a QB battle brewing that shouldn’t effect them much this week. I think the Beavers will be able to drop a lot of points on USC, but the Trojans will drop a few more. This feels like a high scoring game where the Beavers fall just short. I’ll say USC 42, OSU 32.
- Date: Saturday, September 25th
- Time: 7:30 PM PT
- Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA
- Where To Watch: Fox Sports 1