Texas (1-1, 0-0) will travel to Los Angeles on Saturday to take on USC (2-0, 1-0). The Trojans enter the game coming off an impressive win against Stanford, 42-24. Let’s take a look at what USC has on offense:
The first player mentioned when talking about USC is quarterback Sam Darnold. The redshirt sophomore took over at quarterback 4 games into the season in 2016, and led the Trojans to 8 straight victories. Darnold entered 2017 as one of the Heisman frontrunners and a possible #1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Darnold possesses an outstanding arm and can drop balls into tight spots pretty much anywhere on the field. His pocket presence is excellent and he can extend plays with his legs. So far in 2017, Darnold has completed 74% of his passes for 605 yards and 4 touchdowns. While he has also tossed 4 interceptions, he was at his best last week against Stanford when he threw for 4 touchdowns and 316 yards.
It’s hard to envision Darnold struggling against a Texas defense that has been vulnerable against the pass. Texas needs to hope that they are able to get the Trojans into 3rd and long situations, where the Longhorns can drop 7 men into coverage. Texas must do a better much communicating in the secondary if they want any shot at slowing down a potential Heisman finalist.
Against a Stanford defense that prides itself in stopping the run, the Trojans ran for 307 yards. The backfield is led by Texas native Ronald Jones II. The junior has racked up 275 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2017, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. Jones possesses track speed and is widely considered as one of the top running backs in the country.
Freshman Stephen Carr is even more explosive than Jones. The former 5-star recruit has averaged over 10 yards per carry in 2017 and has found the endzone twice. Redshirt freshman Vavae Malepeai has also performed well in limited action, turning 8 carries into 63 yards.
On top of trying to stop Darnold, Texas will also need to find a way to slow down Jones and Carr. The linebackers and safeties have to take proper angles to the ball and try to diagnose plays early. The key for Texas will be linebacker Anthony Wheeler, who played well against San Jose State and needs to be solid in run support at the middle linebacker spot. Gary Johnson should also see an increase in playing time. Johnson is one of the few linebackers in the entire country who can run step for step with running backs like Jones and Carr.
Wide Receivers/ Tight End
The USC receivers unit is led by two veterans, Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell Jr. Both receivers are averaging over 16 yards a catch and have 2 touchdowns each. Outside of Burnett and Mitchell, the Trojans have not had many other contributions from the receiver position, but that could change soon. Sophomore Michael Pittman has missed the first two games due to an ankle injury, but head coach Clay Helton has stated that Pittman is close to returning. Junior Jalen Green is the only other receiver to have more than 1 reception on the season, hauling in 3 passes for 33 yards. Darnold will rely heavily on Burnett and Mitchell, especially with the big play ability that both posses. Kris Boyd and Holton Hill will have to a good job of staying on the two wideouts and not peeking in the backfield, or else Darnold may make them pay.
For the second week in a row, Texas will have to deal with a quality tight end. Junior Tyler Pitete has 59 receiving yards on 6 catches, but has also made a huge impact in the run game. Piete will be relied on heavily after fellow tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe was recently sidelined with a leg injury.
The Trojans had to replace 3 starters along the offensive line for the 2017 season, but the group has responded nicely. While they may not boast the All-Conference and All-American talent that many would expect, they have only allowed 3 sacks in 2 games and have paved big holes for the running backs. Juniors Chuma Edoga and Toa Lobendahn man the two tackle positions and have a combined 29 starts of experience between them. RG Viane Talamaivao has the most experience out of any lineman, having 34 career starts under his belt. Center Nico Falah started 12 games a season ago and LG Chris Brown is the least experienced of the group with 4 career starts.
The defensive line for Texas has actually performed quite nicely through the two games. The offensive line the Trojans have and the ability for Sam Darnold to move around in the pocket may make it difficult for Texas to get to the quarterback. Malcolm Roach has been quiet through 2 games, and this would be good game will for him to cause havoc on the right side of the line and not allow Darnold to get in a rhythm.