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Three key Trojans to watch against Colorado

USC beat Arizona convincingly on Saturday. After a choppy first quarter, the Trojans rallied. Lead by defensive reserve Kana’i Mauga and a balanced offensive attack, the Trojans blew out the Wildcats to solidify their status as Pac-12 South contenders.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Arizona at USC Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kana’i Mauga

Kana’i Mauga has been a surprise to many this season. But to those who have followed USC football for a while, his breakout was less of a surprise. Last summer, I wrote about Mauga as a key linebacker in reserve. He has impressed defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast since his first showing on campus. Mauga has shown great instincts, sideline-to-sideline speed, and has been a sure tackler. The latter is no guarantee given the state of the Trojan defense, which has struggled with tackling and misdirections all season.

With Mauga manning the middle with John Houston Jr., however, USC’s tackling was cleaned up, improving drastically versus the first couple of weeks of the season. Part of this may be that the USC coaching staff noted that they evaluated tape of NFL mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson to prepare for Khalil Tate and Arizona’s rushing offense. But this begs the question: if USC could watch film about containing a mobile quarterback in a week, why did the coaches not think to do that during the bye, before USC traveled to South Bend to play Notre Dame?

Either way, Mauga has been great this season, and he has played himself into a role in which it will be very difficult for USC coaches to keep him off of the field, regardless of whether Palaie Gaoteote comes back. Against Arizona, he was all over the field, notching 13 tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss. Most importantly, Mauga was responsible for causing two turnovers, with one forced fumble and one interception.

Mauga’s herculean effort is the only reason that USC won its first turnover battle since Sam Darnold was the Trojan’s quarterback. Honestly, a linebacking duo of Gaoteote and Mauga likely puts the most talent on the field at that position, but Clay Helton and co. haven repeatedly favored seniority over production. Still, against Colorado, expect Mauga to continue quarterbacking the defense.

Kedon Slovis

Kedon Slovis finished with an average stat line against Arizona, going 19 for 28 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. But considering the personnel Slovis has at receiver and Arizona’s poor defense, that just won’t cut it. Arizona currently holds the nation’s 116th ranked defense.

The expectation going into the game was for USC and the air raid offense to light up the Wildcats. Slovis was repeatedly unable to go on top of the Arizona defense, and struggled to go deep over the Arizona defense. Thought USC did put up 41 points and the win, Slovis played worse than he did last week against Arizona and has yet to recapture the form that he had against Stanford early in the season. Obviously, Slovis is a true freshman starter and needs time to develop. But at the same time, defenses like Arizona are what young developing quarterbacks should feast on.

This is where onlookers should be able to point to development. Instead, Trojan fans will have to wait for Colorado to look for improvement in Slovis. Luckily, Colorado’s defense is also abhorrent on paper. The Buffalos have given up an average of a 155.8 passer efficiency this season, having allowed 18 touchdowns through the air on the season. That’s almost three touchdowns per game through the air alone. Hopefully, Slovis will improve against Colorado and take a step from good to very good. With Markese Stepp sidelined for a few weeks with surgery, Slovis will certainly need to carry more of the load.

The over/under for USC and Arizona game was 68. This means that bettors expected USC and Arizona’s point totals to add up to 68 for the game. Without USC’s two garbage time touchdowns, USC and Arizona do not get close to that number.

Kenan Christon

Speaking of those garbage time touchdowns, both came courtesy of true freshman Kenan Christon. Christon is a track star and a stud coming out of high school. Still, many believed that Christon would redshirt this year. Even with Markese Stepp out for the next three to five weeks, I believe Helton will still try to keep Christon under the four game mark to preserve his redshirt.

Christon was great for his two runs, but his abilities may have been overstated by Trojan fans desperate for greatness. Christon had 8 rushes for 103 yards for a great 12.9 yards per rush and two touchdowns. Thing is, the majority of his yards came from his touchdowns, which went for 55 and 30 yards. Without those runs, Christon went for a measly 3.0 yards per rush.

You can say that those 30 and 55 yard gains count too, and you’d be right. But on this 55 yard touchdown run, Christon was never even touched. Most speed backs would be able to take this run for 30 or 35 yards before the safety finally brings them down. Christon’s state record speed brings value here, but if the offensive line blocked like this every play, every runningback would look good.

That’s why I don’t buy the Christon-Bush comparisons.

Kenan Christon is a talented back with breakaway speed and good vision. But this is too much. Christon still needs time in a college weight program. On the runs where he didn’t get by the first level untouched, he only got three yards per tackle and was an easy tackle for Arizona linemen and linebackers.

Against Colorado, Christon will get a chance to make me eat my words. This Colorado defense is ripe for big plays, and Christon can prove that his big play explosiveness is the norm, rather than the exception.