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USC Football 2020 Preview: Week 1 @ UCLA

Our USC Football 2020 Preview kicks off with a look at the UCLA Bruins

UCLA v. USC Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

The 2020 football schedule has been laid out for us, and while the Pac-12 Players are standing in Unity and opting to sit out across all 12 member universities, I am still hopeful that we will have a season. I am also hopeful that the Pac-12 will listen to the players and come to some swift sort of negotiation and plan going forward, and that we will get a football season.

For the sake of the unknown, here’s a look at the UCLA Bruins matchup against your USC Trojans in the new Week 1 slate, as if everyone on roster was going to play.

What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Let’s dive in.

Quarterback battle — Dorian Thompson-Robinson vs Kedon Slovis

It’s no surprise that USC has the edge here, and has a big edge at that. Slovis is dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on every major award preseason watch list while DTR is on the outside looking in. He’s got immense talent but he hasn’t had a consistent stretch of solid play for the Bruins through his two years as the starter.

He’s not necessarily equipped to run the Chip Kelly offense and that has been evident. He has terrific skills on the ground and can sling it to the short-area levels of the field with ease but struggles to get the ball downfield with plus accuracy. USC can confuse him easily and if they get pressure on him, he’ll look to take off down field where the Trojans athleticism should show, and bottle him up.

Advantage, big time, Slovis/USC.

Running back situation is murky but Demetric Felton is dynamic

We all knew about Joshua Kelley, but now that he’s gone, who’s next? It’s simple, and this is the strength of their offense. It’s Felton.

A dynamic dual-threat out of the backfield, if Felton has even an inch of separation, he’ll make defenders miss with ease. Bottling Felton up out of the backfield in the passing game or on the ground in the run game is essential to limiting this offense because ...

Wide receiver and tight end depth a mystery for UCLA

If there’s one thing we know at USC, it’s that there is an abundance of wealth at the receiver position for the Trojans. Sure the tight end position is left with just one major contributor on roster but the wide receiver spoils are boiling over. That can’t be said for UCLA, who’s left with just a few contributors of note from years past. Kyle Phillips is good not great, averaging just 11.4 yards per catch last year and having a long reception of just 39 yards. Jaylen Erwin and Chase Cota return but their leading receiver is actually set to be Felton out of the backfield.

Again, stopping Felton is a must to stop this offense even if their ...

Offensive line has potential

The Bruins have plenty of potential at the offensive line positions this season, namely Jake Burton. However, after that, it’s a group that will also lack depth and lack star power. If you were to match up anyone against Burton this season, if he maintains his spot as right tackle, it’s set to be Drake Jackson more than it is anyone else. And all Jackson did last season was record multiple pressures including a sack against UCLA in 2019.

The defensive line rotation, namely Jay Tufele, should feast on a lackluster unit on the interior, especially since this is Week 1. And speaking of strong USC defensive fronts ...

UCLA’s defensive front seven lacks star-worthy returners

There’s Osa Odighizuwa but after that, this front seven unit lacks a ton of returning snaps, including the losses of Josh Woods and Krys Barnes at linebacker. Those three named players accounted for well over 1,800 snaps on defense last season and their next most experienced returner along the front seven is linebacker Leni Toailoa, who recorded 20 tackles last season. With a lacking on the defensive line and at linebacker the UCLA ...

Secondary is the star of the show

The returning stars on defense happen to all return to the secondary, and this is a tough unit to pass on. Stephan Blaylock and Elisha Guidry each are very talented safeties with proven strong abilities in coverage but Quentin Lake returns after just four games of action in 2019. Their depth at safety will help overcome the fact that they lose their No. 1 cornerback to the NFL in Darnay Holmes. The safety trios should eat up the middle of the field and force all quarterbacks they face this season to work outside the numbers.

Fortunately for USC, Slovis dominates outside the numbers and when attacking cornerbacks in man coverage.

Bottom line

The rivalry gets moved up to September for the first time since 1945 and it’s only fitting that the Trojans entered that game after a dominant, three-plus-possession win while being ranked in the top 25, much like they enter this year’s contest. In that September 1945 meeting, the Trojans defeated UCLA just 13-6.

Fully expect this year’s margin of victory to be much, much bigger than that for USC.

Fight On!