Posted on July 17, 2023
This USC preseason soccer preview is the sixth of 12 to look over as many weeks as we rely down the times to the beginning of the Pac-12 season on August twenty sixth.
Every preview consists of 9 sections: Overview, Finest-Case Situation, Worst-Case Situation, What Ought to Occur, What Should Occur, Best Power, Largest Concern, Deciding Components, and Schedule Evaluation.
Nothing is about in stone, nevertheless, as rosters and depth charts proceed to evolve over the summer time.
The Trojans enter the second yr of the Lincoln Riley period with one objective in thoughts: making the Faculty Soccer Playoff.
A hamstring harm to quarterback Caleb Williams within the Pac-12 Championship Recreation arguably price USC an look within the Playoff final yr.
However with the Heisman Trophy winner again for one more season, the expectations in L.A. are clear.
Nonetheless, there’s an elephant within the room.
The Trojan protection allowed 29.2 factors per recreation final yr and was 94th within the FBS in scoring protection. And as a substitute of exhibiting defensive coordinator Alex Grinch the door, Riley introduced him again for one more yr.
To be truthful, Grinch’s protection was No. 5 within the nation in turnovers pressured per recreation and No. 20 in sacks per recreation.
However USC gave up 40 factors or extra in 4 completely different contests and went 1-3 in these matchups, together with the Pac-12 Championship Recreation and the Cotton Bowl.
As a comparability, Playoff groups Georgia and Michigan had the No. 5 and No. 7 scoring defenses within the nation, whereas Ohio State was No. 25. Runner-up TCU was the outlier, although, with a protection ranked ninetieth in factors allowed per recreation.
But, except the Trojans enhance on “D” they’ll stay on the surface of Playoff trying in.
To take action, Riley pulled down the No. 3 switch class within the nation with six defensive gamers rated as four-star transfers, per 247Sports.
The eight returning starters on protection mix with the impression transfers for a markedly improved unit.
USC was an unacceptable 109th within the FBS on Third Down final season, permitting conversions 42.9 p.c of the time. For a staff anticipating to get to the Playoff, that’s not going to get it finished.
Security Calen Bullock, defensive again Max Williams, linebacker Shane Lee, and linebacker Eric Gentry spotlight the returning starters. However the keys are the transfers.
Former Oklahoma State linebacker Mason Cobb and former Georgia defensive lineman Bear Alexander is likely to be essentially the most impactful.
But, Arizona switch cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace, Arizona defensive lineman switch Kyon Barrs, and Purdue defensive lineman switch Jack Sullivan undertaking to be simply as beneficial.
The 5 instant impression gamers ought to all contribute to assist bolster SC’s third down and scoring protection.
Texas A&M DL switch Anthony Lucas, Alabama CB switch Tre’Quon Fegans, and Georgia State LB switch Jamil Muhammad all have alternatives to carve out roles, too.
With an enchancment on protection and 0 anticipated drop off on offense, the Trojans publish wins towards Notre Dame, Utah, and Washington with the lone regular-season defeat approaching the street to Oregon.
Worst Case Situation
The Pac-12 Convention has improved in soccer over the previous couple of seasons and one of many major the reason why is elite offensive line play.
Final yr, Oregon was No. 1 within the nation in sacks allowed per recreation, whereas Washington was No. 2, Utah was No. 16, and Oregon State was No. 17.
And as for tackles for loss allowed per recreation, Washington was No. 1 within the nation, Oregon State was No. 8, Oregon and Utah have been tied for No. 10, and Arizona was No. 17.
Suffice it to say that the league’s power is extremely tied to the standard of its offensive traces.
However, regardless of what some participant grading companies printed, USC’s O-Line was a step behind.
The Trojans have been an embarrassing 73rd within the nation in sacks allowed per recreation (eighth within the Pac-12) and a considerably respectable thirty seventh in tackles for loss allowed per recreation (seventh within the Pac-12).
Two major starters—Justin Dedich and Jonah Monheim—return from final yr’s line. Mason Murphy is the opposite returner with notable expertise beginning, though he solely began 5 video games final yr.
To handle the road play, Riley mined the portal with nice success.
USC introduced in three offensive linemen transfers with beginning expertise in Wyoming switch Emmanuel Pregnon, Florida switch Michael Tarquin, and Washington State switch Jarrett Kingston.
The trio mixed to begin for 28 video games final yr and make this yr’s model of SC’s O-Line among the many greatest within the Pac-12. Not less than on paper.
The three newcomers should rapidly be taught Riley’s offense and Williams’s tendencies. If the three new gamers aren’t ready to take action, the Trojan offensive line might as soon as once more be a legal responsibility.
If that occurs, USC might drop video games to Notre Dame, Washington, and Oregon to complete a disappointing 9-3.
What Ought to Occur
The Trojan offense shouldn’t miss a beat.
Weapons have been added round Williams with Arizona large receiver switch Dorian Singer (1,105 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns in 2022) and South Carolina operating again switch MarShawn Lloyd (573 yards speeding and 11 complete touchdowns in 2022).
USC’s freshman class is elite, too.
Ranked No. 7 within the nation, per 247Sports, Riley has added three five-star freshmen and 6 four-star freshmen to his offense.
5-star tight finish Duce Robinson may need essentially the most instant impression, however five-star receiver Zachariah Department ought to contribute as properly.
The Trojans have been No. 3 within the nation in scoring offense and return a number of key skill-position gamers.
Working backs Austin Jones and Raleek Brown are each again after combining for 1,374 yards from scrimmage and 12 complete touchdowns.
On the similar time, three of the highest 4 receivers are again with Tahj Washington, Mario Williams, and Brenden Rice combining for two,027 yards receiving and 15 receiving touchdowns.
With a complete of six returning starters on offense and the impression newcomers, Riley’s offense ought to as soon as once more be one of many prime models in Faculty Soccer.
What Should Occur
As the final a number of seasons have proven, the road play on each side of the ball should enhance.
A staff with the No. 3 scoring offense within the nation shouldn’t lose a Cotton Bowl recreation to Tulane. Nor ought to it’s blown out in its convention’s championship recreation.
However, the first knock on USC has been its points on the offensive and defensive traces. And for good motive.
Riley’s scheme and Williams’s ability lined up most of the points alongside the O-Line, however the D-Line remained problematic.
The Trojans have been 124th within the nation in First Down Protection, a stat that measures the variety of first downs an opponent secures.
Tellingly, SC was lifeless final within the Pac-12 in that class, and far of the problem is arguably attributable to the defensive position.
Riley misplaced his prime linemen, too. Tuli Tuipulotu posted 13.5 sacks and 22.0 tackles for loss final season and will likely be missed immensely. Nick Figueroa is gone as properly, after placing up 5.5 sacks and 6.0 tackles for loss.
Tyrone Taleni and Solomon Tuliaupupu do return, although, after notching a mixed 7.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss final season.
However the three impression transfers alongside the road—Alexander, Barrs, and Sullivan—should produce. Credit score Riley and his employees for figuring out the wants on protection and efficiently reeling in transfers capable of make instant impacts.
But, in the event that they don’t do what’s anticipated of them, USC’s defensive position might shift from a priority to a licensed legal responsibility.
Without a doubt, USC’s biggest power is its offense.
Riley’s system and scheme are elite, whereas Williams is arguably the highest quarterback in Faculty Soccer. Mixed with the depth at large receiver and the weapons at operating again, it’s clear SC’s offense is at or close to the highest of the FBS.
A whole collection of tales might break down the power of every particular person place group and element the depth throughout the board.
However the offensive power is predicted and a given. The important thing to USC making the Playoff is on the opposite aspect of the ball.
The numbers don’t lie: USC’s protection was unhealthy final season.
Its speeding protection was No. 80, its passing protection was No. 112, and its complete protection was No. 106.
One of many relative brilliant spots was SC’s Pink Zone Protection, which slotted in at No. 52. However total the Trojan “D” wasn’t on the extent of a Faculty Soccer Playoff contender.
This yr, the linebacker group is arguably stronger and the D-Line is likely to be barely deeper. However till the manufacturing is proven on the sphere, the protection is definitely USC’s largest concern.
Grinch and Riley want manufacturing from their sophomores.
Domani Jackson and Raleek Brown, particularly, could possibly be pivotal to an improved 2023 season.
Jackson was a five-star recruit within the 2022 Class, however performed in simply seven video games and solely recorded two tackles. There’s a possibility for him within the defensive again room and an uptake in manufacturing could be impactful.
Brown, then again, had a productive first yr. Able to contend for the beginning operating again function, the sophomore is projected to be a constant piece of SC’s offense.
On the similar time, defensive again Zion Department has a possibility to point out what he can do after lacking final season with an harm.
The four-star from the Class of 2022 could possibly be an impression participant, or at the least contribute, to a protection that wants all the assistance it could possibly get.
And though he isn’t a sophomore, it’s time for Korey Foreman to lastly put up numbers.
The No. 3 total recruit from the Class of 2021 has simply 24 tackles after two seasons. If he can emerge as a constant menace alongside the D-Line, Grinch’s protection will likely be in a stronger place.
Particular person gamers don’t often make or break a staff, however a group of them can actually tip the scales in the fitting route.
And after a number of years of securing extremely regarded gamers, it’s time for them to reside as much as their billing.
San Jose State is a mildly fascinating matchup to begin the yr, however the Trojans ought to roll over the Spartans and Nevada.
Stanford is trending up because of sturdy recruiting, however these gamers don’t enter this system till subsequent season and USC ought to dominate on the Coliseum.
The sport towards Arizona State is considerably noteworthy. The Solar Devils may have that one circled on their calendar and can give it the whole lot they’ve. However ASU doesn’t have the protection to include USC.
Neither does Colorado.
The matchup towards Arizona is a barely nearer name. A number of UA starters transferred to USC in the course of the offseason, which is able to give the Wildcats an additional stage of motivation.
However Jedd Fisch doesn’t have the protection to tug off the street victory in L.A.
The October 14th showdown with Notre Dame is pivotal to the Trojans’ Playoff hopes. A loss to the Irish won’t eradicate them, however it might most likely require the champion of the ACC to have a two-loss yr.
A house recreation towards Utah follows. It’s a good distance away from the matchup, however a USC victory is a snug prediction.
The Utes are 1-5 on the Coliseum since becoming a member of the Pac-12 and the Trojans are in search of revenge after final yr’s title recreation.
A visit to Berkeley to face California follows. Just like practically each different staff within the Pac-12, the Bears don’t have the defensive power to decelerate SC nor the offensive firepower to outscore it.
The November 4th matchup with Washington is a unique story.
Kalen DeBoer’s offense is on the identical stage as Riley’s and the Huskies have the offensive personnel to hold with the Trojans. However going through UW in L.A., the Males of Troy ought to win in a high-scoring affair.
A street recreation towards Oregon follows. The Geese have persistently sturdy recruiting lessons and one of many prime quarterbacks within the nation in Bo Nix.
Mixed with the sport doubtlessly being USC’s closing journey to Autzen Stadium ever, the Geese determine to tug off the upset.
The yr ends with a rivalry recreation towards UCLA that ought to end in one other USC victory.
All informed, a 9-3 season seems to be the ground whereas an 11-1 marketing campaign is a practical risk. The protection would be the deciding issue, making a 10-2 end a good projection.
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