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 defense and special teams:
The USC defense will operate out a 3-4 look. The nose tackle position is held down by former junior college standout Josh Fatu. Fatu has already recorded 2 tackles for loss and a sack in 2017. The end positions are occupied by Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton. Green was an honorable mention All-PAC 12 member in 2016 and had an excellent game last week against Stanford. Right tackles Tristan Nickelson and Denzel Okafor will draw the task of having to try to slow down Green, who possesses the speed and strength to give the offensive line fits. Dorton has a quiet first few games of the year, only totaling 3 tackles and having no sacks or tackles for loss. Stanford had pretty good success running to Dorton’s side of the line, and with Connor Williams matched up against him on Saturday, it may be smart for Texas to replicate that plan.
Inside linebacker Cameron Smith is widely considered to be the top player on the Trojan defense. Smith was a second team All-Pac 12 member in 2016 and is one of the top run defenders in the entire country. He is the team leader in tackles with 14 to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss. Beside him is fellow inside linebacker John Houston Jr. The sophomore has 9 tackles on the year to go along with a quarterback hurry. If Texas wants to establish the run game, they will have to find a way to get bodies on Smith and Houston, who both shoot gaps well and have high football IQ’s.
The two outside linebackers for USC each serve a different purpose for the Trojan defense. Senior Uchenna Nwosu is seen as an athletic linebacker who the Trojans can rely on in pass coverage and to handle athletes out in space. Nwosu has 9 tackles and a tackle for loss on the season, and will play a vital role in defending the screen game that Texas has utilized through the first two games. Porter Gustin would the starter at the other outside linebacker spot, but Gustin is every questionable for Saturday with a toe injury. The 6’5, 255 pound junior was the named honorable mention All-Pac 12 in 2016, when he lead the team in tackles for loss with 13 and also collected 5.5 sacks. Texas would catch an extreme break if Gustin is unable to play, and sophomore Connor Murphy would likely start in his place. Murphy has seen limited playing time this season, recording 6 tackles.
In 2016, Adoree’ Jackson took home the Jim Thorpe award for the top defensive back in the country. Despite Jackson’s departure to the NFL, another defensive back on the Trojans was named to the Jim Thorpe award watch list prior to the 2017 season. Junior Iman Marshall is the top cornerback on the roster, and for good reason. Marshall is in his 3rd season as a starter and has 6 career interceptions. Collin Johnson will again draw a tough corner and will most likely be bracketed by a safety for the third straight game. Opposite of Marshall, the other starting corner is sophomore Jack Jones. Jones had a great game against Stanford a week ago, recording 6 tackles.
The Trojans boast a solid safety pairing that is led by senior Chris Hawkins. The 2016 honorable mention All-Pac 12 member has 24 career starts. Hawkins brings a lot of versatility to the USC secondary, having started games at both safety positions and at corner. Marvell Tell III is the starter at the other safety spot and has recorded USC’s only interception through 2 games. Converted wide receiver Ajene Harris will play nickel when the Trojans choose to employ an extra DB.
Texas will bring in the most talented receiving group that the Trojans have faced so far this season. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck will need to try to create matchup problems against a USC secondary that has length and plays with good discipline. Wide receivers Reggie Hemphill Mapps, Armanti Foreman and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey will need to find way to get open to help alleviate some of the double coverage Collin Johnson will be facing.
Interestingly, the Trojans have yet to attempt a field goal in 2017. Redshirt freshman Michael Brown and true freshman Chase McGrath competed for the field goal duties throughout fall camp. Brown tore his ACL in last weeks game and will miss the remainder of the season. This leaves McGrath has the only player left at kicker. The walk on is a perfect 13 for 13 on extra points, but it remains to be seen what he will look like when USC is forced to attempt a field goal.
Junior Reid Budrovich is in his first year as the starting punter and is averaging close to 50 yards per punt. Budrovich has had 2 punts land inside the 20.
Velus Jones Jr. and Jack Jones serve as the primary kick returners.Velus Jones has returned 2 kicks for total of 61 yards, while Jack Jones has 2 returns for 14 yards. Texas has been vulnerable to long kickoff returns so far this year and USC will have the opportunity to exploit a shaky coverage unit. On punts, Ajene Harris handles the returns. Harris has only had 1 returnable attempt, a 15 yard return against Western Michigan. The Longhorns can not afford to give USC points off of special teams if they have any hope of pulling an upset on Saturday.
Latest from our Community
Texas Longhorns Football3 weeks ago
Staff Predictions: Texas vs. Colorado (Valero Alamo Bowl)
Texas Longhorns Recruiting2 weeks ago
Longhorns Recruiting Road Trip: Week 17
Texas Longhorns Football2 weeks ago
Texas fires head coach Tom Herman
Texas Longhorns Recruiting1 week ago
Longhorns Recruiting Road Trip: Week 18
Uncategorized2 weeks ago
Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian named head coach at Texas
Big 122 weeks ago
Texas improves to 3-0 in Big 12 play with 78-72 win over Iowa State
Texas Longhorns Recruiting3 days ago
Longhorns Recruiting Road Trip: Week 19
Texas Longhorns Football2 weeks ago
Longhorns win Alamo Bowl, defeat Colorado 55-23