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USC Football: UNLV Game Preview

Game week is finally here! We preview the Trojans game against the UNLV Running Rebels as they prepare to defend their Pac-12 Championship.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - USC v Ohio State Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

GET EXCITED!! IT’S GAME WEEK!!

The 2018 season begins this Saturday as the USC Trojans prepare to host the UNLV Rebels. This will be the beginning of a very tough September slate for the Trojans which includes two ranked opponents in Stanford and Texas in back to back weeks and a dangerous Arizona team. All of them on the road. USC will look to start the season off on a high note against Tony Sanchez’s UNLV team. Last season USC went 11-3 and won the Pac-12 Championship, however the season ended on a pretty bad note at the 2017 Cotton Bowl. USC was defeated by the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-7, A game that left a bad taste in the Trojans mouth. This season they’re looking to take the next step and play in the College Football Playoffs. The Trojans come into the season ranked No. 15 in the AP Polls.

UNLV comes out of the Mountain West and are coming off of a 5-7 season. Last season the Rebels dropped their season opener to Howard out of the FCS. A game where the Rebels were 45 point favorites coming into the game. Head Coach Tony Sanchez comes into his 4th season with UNLV where the Rebels win total has climbed each season.

USC v California Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Offense

USC will be replacing a few key players from the offensive side of the ball. The biggest question all spring and summer was at the quarterback position. Those were put to rest (for now) when Trojans head coach Clay Helton named true freshman J.T. Daniels as the starter for Saturday’s game. Daniels has looked impressive during fall camp and PRP (Player ran practices). He’ll have plenty of weapons to help him through the air with Redshirt Sophomore Tyler Vaughns and Junior Michael Pittman Jr. on the outside and Redshirt Sophomore Velus Jones in the slot starting. Not to mention his Mater Dei teammate true freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown will be seeing heavy playing time this week in the slot and outside. UNLV secondary will have their hands full against the talent of the Trojans receiving corps. Last season the Rebels gave up 219.3 passing yards a game, expect the Trojans to open up the playbook a little for Daniels and use their weapons at receiver.

On the ground the Trojans will be without the presence of Ronald Jones II, however they still have talent that could shine in the backfield. Stephen Carr, Aca’Cedric Ware, and Vavae Malepei were listed as co-starters on the depth chart. The big question will be with Carr and his health. The sophomore missed all of spring with back surgery, however he was cleared to participate during fall camp. When healthy, he provides a different element to USC’s running game. Aca’Cedric Ware has really impressed during the spring and fall. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Ware receive a bulk of the carries against a UNLV team who struggled to defend the run last season.

Stanford v USC Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Defense

What’s considered to be the strong point of the team. This week they’ll be facing a UNLV offense who’s pretty strong on the ground. The Rebels were ranked No. 21 in the nation in rushing yards and averaged 240 yards a game. UNLV quarterback Armani Rodgers gives the Rebels a threat on the ground and if you’ve seen the Trojans in the past, dual threat quarterbacks tend to give USC troubles. Rodgers was Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year last season and looks to help the Rebels improve this coming season. The Rebels also bring back senior running back Lexington Thomas. Thomas rushed for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Rebels.

The USC defense has had some issues against the run last season, giving up an average of 159.3 yards a game and 1.4 touchdowns on the ground. The duo of Rodgers and Thomas could give the Trojans some fits, however USC return guys like Christian Rector and Brandon Pili on the line with linebackers senior Porter Gustin, Camron Smith, John Houston to help against the run. The key question this week is the status of Porter Gustin. The senior linebacker torn his meniscus during the first week of fall camp and had surgery to repair it. He was initially out for 4 weeks, however Gustin is making a push to return this week and has looked pretty good in non-contact drills. Safe bet is that the Trojans could hold Gustin out for the UNLV game, but don’t be surprised if he ends up playing after all.

The Trojans secondary could give the Rebels some fits as well. Rodgers threw for 6 touchdowns and 5 picks in 9 games played with the Rebels. Wide Receivers Brandon Presley and Darren Woods Jr. return to provide some help, however one of them will have to deal with Trojans senior Iman Marshall who brings a physical presence to the position. On the other side Isiah Langley or Greg Johnson will draw the start with Ajane Harris as the nickle cornerback. As if that’s not enough All-Pac-12 Safety Marvell Tell will be roaming around with sophomore Bubba Bolden starting at strong safety. The Trojans secondary was one of the best in the Pac-12, however they had issues giving up the big play from busted coverage.

Key Notes

  • J.T. Daniels will become the second true freshman in USC history to open the season as starting at quarterback. In 2009 Matt Barkley became to first true freshman to start the opener at quarterback.
  • Under Clay Helton, the Trojans have never lost at home. USC have one their last 18 games at the Coliseum. Their longest winning streak at the Coliseum was the 24 games which lasted from 2001-2007.
  • USC is a 25.5 favorite over UNLV as of Monday morning. Last season the Trojans were low 3-10-1 against the spread.
  • This will be the second meeting between USC and UNLV. Their last meeting came on October 4th, 1997. The Trojans pulled away in the 4th quarter to defeat the Rebels 35-21 to give John Robinson his 100th college career win.

How To Watch

Location: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum- Los Angeles, California

Date/Time (PT): Saturday, September 1st, 1:00 PM

Channel: Pac-12 Network