The USC Trojans are turning the page on a dismal 2018 season that saw them miss out on bowl season with the their first losing record since 2000. During the off-season they’ve made staff changes and spring practice made it a mission to change the culture while simplifying the schemes. While the Trojans looking to have a bounce back season, they still have questions that have to be answered.
Will Graham Harrell wake up the USC offense?
Without a doubt the USC offense was indeed a mess last season. Statistically they’ve reached lows that hasn’t been seen since 2000. There was many factors that led to those issues. The Trojans let Tee Martin go and brought in Kliff Kingsburry, only for him to bolt after one month for the NFL. USC went on to hire Graham Harrell from North Texas to run the offense. During the spring, the Trojans showed how improved their offense was by keeping it simple. Quick reads for the quarterbacks, running to an open spot for receivers, and simple blocking schemes for the offensive line. Basically letting the players make plays. His philosophy turned North Texas into a top 15 offense for the last two seasons. With better talent to work with, can Harrell do the same for a struggling USC offense?
Can the Pass Rush be more effective?
When Porter Gustin went out for the season, the USC pass rush went right along with it. Opposing quarterbacks had more time in the backfield to make plays and pick apart the Trojans defense. With Gustin now gone, they’ll now have to find ways to be more effective in that department. USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast spent the spring trying to work ways to get the most out of the pass rush. Christian Rector moved from defensive end to the predator position which is a stand up rusher, Chad Kauha’aha’a was brought on to coach the defensive line, and new players such as freshman Drake Jackson made their impact during the spring. With depth at the defensive line and outside linebacker, Pendergast could rejuvenate the pass rush for USC. However can it be consistent when they face offenses like Oregon and Fresno State this season.
Lets be honest here, USC has a challenging schedule this coming season. The first six games of the season will put the Trojans to the test. They welcome Fresno State, Stanford, and Utah on Friday night to the Coliseum while they hit the road to face BYU, Washington, and Notre Dame after the bye week. The latter half of the schedule doesn't’ present a tall task on paper, however they’ll have Oregon coming to Los Angeles and a UCLA team that will be in year two under head coach Chip Kelly. Not to mention a trip to Berkeley to face an improved Cal team. The story will be told within the first few weeks of the season.
Clay Helton’s Job Security?
USC head coach Clay Helton has faced a lot of heat for the 5-7 record last season. Many called for his firing following the season. Athletic Director Lynn Swann did himself no favors with a lettering voicing his full support for Helton after the 17-24 loss to Notre Dame at home. Coaching was a huge portion of why the Trojans struggled in 2018 and Helton replaced a bulk of his staff. Helton also designated a lot of the play calling to his coordinators and took time to self reflect on himself as a coach. Will those changes help Helton moving forward? Should the Trojans struggle out the gate, the hot seat may get hotter for him.
JT Daniels Improve his Sophomore Year?
Daniels freshman season was very up and down. He showed his potential in games, however he had a lot of moments where his youth showed. This season Daniels will have a new offense that's geared more towards him and a quarterback coach/offensive coordinator who set NCAA records in Harrell. Everything is there for him to improve his sophomore season. The question is will it happen. During the spring, Daniels had issues where he would over think plays which lead to interceptions and him getting sacked. The more reps he can get, the better he can improve. First objective for Daniels will be to reclaim the starting job as positions has opened up.
What will the secondary look like?
Towards the end of the season, USC’s secondary lacked depth due to recent transfers and injuries. It also affected spring practice when the players were either recovering from off-season surgeries, transfers, or more injuries. Safety Talanoa Hufanga is expected to return during fall camp after he re-injured his collarbone while Isaiah Pola-Mao was still limited during the spring. Freshmen Cornerback Max Williams was also recovering from a high school knee injury, although he looked pretty impressive. It’s expected to see Olajiah Griffin and Greg Johnson to start at corner whole Hufanga and Pola-Mao occupy the starting safety roles, but what about the rest of the unit? C.J. Pollard and Chase Williams will see good rotational time at safety, while Issac Taylor-Stewart impressed coaches during the spring. Britton Allen has also showed his versatility during spring camp and could contribute right away. USC also has a host of incoming freshmen at the defensive back coming in the summer to provide some depth at the position.
The secondary could be in better shape depth wise, but rotations and improved play will be the biggest question mark.