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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #15 USC

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 5, 2014

#15 USC Trojans

 

2013 Recap:

USC had the loudest 10-4 season in recent memory, if not ever. The coaching change and situation with Lane Kiffin and then interim Ed Orgeron was an obvious distraction as USC looked very bad and very good at times.

 

Coaching:

Steve Sarkisian comes over from Washington and stays in conference. The change to the offense is one that will be talked about, as the I-formation will be gone in USC, a team that made it famous and may have run it better than any team over the last 40 seasons. We haven't seen an offensive philosophy change on a scale like this since Bill Callahan took over Nebraska and started throwing the football more than 10 times a game. This is going to be one of the biggest stories at the NCAA level to watch this season.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Going into 2013 the quarterback spot was one of uncertainty after having Matt Barkley excel for years. Cody Kessler and Max Wittek were in a heated battle, one that Wittek initially won. Then Wittek struggled but Kessler was still slow out of the gate, so it started to look like a war off attrition and nobody wanted the job. Midway through last season it looked like the light switch went on for Kessler and he grabbed a hold of the job and his play went through the roof. Over the last 5 games of 2013, Kessler was 97 completions for 140 passes with a 69% completion percentage, and 1,171 yards with 10 TD's and only 1 interception. Kessler played almost as well as any Pac-12 quarterback down the stretch and this is a conference that is head and shoulders above every one at the NCAA level when it comes to quarterback play and prospects. He has the talent for the pro level but he will most certainly stay through his senior season with the amount of high profile quarterbacks ahead of him. This year will set the stage for a big 2015 when he looks to establish himself among the nation's elite.

Running back Javorius Allen established himself last year bursting on the scene as a freshman with 785 yards and 14 touchdowns in only 135 carries while adding another touchdown and 22 catches through the air. Allen is a solid specimen, and as good as Kessler is throwing the ball, setting the table with Allen should be the focal point of the offense.

Best Draft Prospect: Javorius Allen RB 3rd Round 2017 (possible 2016 early entrant).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Nelson Agholor will certainly step out of the shadow of the departed Marqise Lee and be the #1 guy at USC. Agholor had better numbers last season as Lee battled through injuries, so his 58 catches for 918 yards and 6 touchdowns were very impressive. Agholor is nearly as dangerous returning punts too. Having a capable threat on the other side of him will go a long way, and he has that in sophomore Darreus Rogers. Rogers worked the slot last year and he will move outside with Lee gone.

The influence of Sarkisian will be evident with tight end Randall Telfer as Sarkisian is known for utilizing tight ends in his up-tempo system. Telfer only caught 6 passes last season behind Xavier Grimble but he is ready to break out and we could see him grab about 40 passes. This is a nice collection of receivers but look for Sarkisian to get on them to block better downfield with a spread formation running the football.

Best Draft Prospect: Nelson Agholor WR 2nd Round 2016 (looks like an early entrant for 2015).

 

Offensive Line:

This seems to be the one area of concern for the Trojans as many of the offensive linemen they brought in are just too young or have already been bitten by the injury bug.  Marcus Martin was a player they moved around between guard and center and he is now in the NFL. His replacement Max Tuerk is the most solid on the line. Tuerk, like Martin, has extensive experience at guard, even tackle for that matter. Tuerk looks like he will be making the calls at the line and gets to anchor the interior portion. It will be interesting to see if the Trojans keep the sophomore tackle tandem of Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner at their intended positions or if they flip them between left and right tackle, as we have heard whispers saying so.  The big name talent is not here as in years' past but USC always seems to have ample talent here to fall back on. As long as the Trojans maintain some consistency and provide solid run blocking, all will be well for USC.

Best Draft Prospect: Max Tuerk C/OG 5th Round 2016.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The defense undergoes a huge switch in philosophy as the five lineman look will be gone. USC will switch frequently but a 3-4 base is where the Trojan defense will see most of the plays being made. It all starts with Leonard Williams, who has the size to make it as an end or a tackle at the NFL level. Williams is currently our #1 prospect overall on the big board heading into the season and most certainly looks like he will be turning pro after his junior campaign. Williams dazzled with 74 tackles with 13.5 coming for loss and 6.5 sacks. Many of these plays came with Williams lining up inside as he seemed to switch often with George Uko on defense. Williams can't do it alone though, and Delvon Simmons and Antwuan Woods are there to ensure he doesn't see too many double teams. Freshman Kenny Bigelow has the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact along the line.

Best Draft Prospect: Leonard Williams DE/DT 1st Round 2016 (Looks like a definite 2015 early entrant and preseason #1 overall prospect heading into the season).

 

Linebackers:

The numbers may be a little inflated for this unit in 2014, with the line so talented and opening things up for them. Yet there is obvious talent in the USC second wave of tacklers. Hayes Pullard is a sure tackler and he looks like he will be the main beneficiary of the defensive play. Pullard led the Trojans with 94 tackles last year. One aspect that gets overlooked for Pullard is his work on pass coverage, as he had 7 passes broken up and an additional 6 defensed. Pullard should top 100 tackles and he will heard his name mentioned during the middle stages of the Draft. Anthony Sarao is back as a starter and ready to take his game to the next level as he will now be counted on for some leadership duties with USC. Lamar Dawson is a versatile linebacker that can line up anywhere and will be an active participant.

Best Draft Prospect: Hayes Pullard LB 4th Round 2015.

 

Secondary:

Josh Shaw is the unquestioned leader of a secondary that was second in the PAC-12 and #32 overall last season, which was a big improvement over 2012. Shaw is currently seen as a 5th  round prospect, but junior Kevon Seymour may wind up being the best pro of the bunch when all is said and done. This will be a big year for Seymour as teams are going to look to shift their focus away from Shaw. In the PAC-12, you need to have a solid secondary that can press and play man coverage or you will be eaten alive by the quarterback talent. This duo picked off 5 passes and broke up another 18 last season combined. Su'a Cravens and his play in the spring will have people forgetting Dion Bailey, as he looks like the next star at the safety spot, in a school known for pushing some big safeties into the NFL. Cravens had 4 picks and 54 tackles last year and his increased production was nearly on par with Kessler at quarterback. As a sophomore it should be easier to spot him making big plays on the field. This is a very nice secondary that will once again be among one of the best in the conference.

Best Draft Prospect: Josh Shaw CB 5th Round 2015.

 

Special Teams:

Agholor has the punt return duties locked down and the return game as a whole is going to be exceptional. Andre Heidari has the leg to be a big time kicker but his 15-22 performance needs to improve for USC to be successful in a conference where there will be some close contests. Kris Albedaro is a punter who by next season may have NFL aspirations of his own.

Best Draft Prospect: Nelson Agholor WR/PR 2nd Round 2016 (looks like an early entrant for 2015).

 

Schedule:

The September 6th showdown with Stanford on the road is one of the best early season games on the entire NCAA schedule. Notre Dame is now at the end of the schedule this season, after the rival contest with UCLA, so that will be tough for the Trojans. The conference slate does not feature Oregon, so that is a small victory for USC.

 

Draft Outlook:

Will Leonard Williams be the first player off the board? We seem to be the minority in thinking he could go number 1 but nearly everyone is saying he will go pro and he is being projected as a high selection. Plenty of players will have big years in this new system and will make an impact now (Josh Shaw, Hayes Pullard, Nelson Agholor and Randall Telfar), while the stars of tomorrow also reside on the roster (Cody Kessler, Javorius Allen, Kevon Seymour and Antwaun Woods).

 

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