USC football: Anonymous Pac-12 coach questions Trojans ‘size and physicality’

USC football offensive line. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC football offensive line. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

USC football isn’t impressing in the trenches, according to an anonymous Pac-12 coach.

Every year, Athlon Sports gets the skinny on each Pac-12 team from coaches in the conference. This year, the word skinny may be a bit too apt for USC football.

One of the anonymous comments about the Trojans had to do with a worrying lack of size and physicality in the trenches.

For USC, that’s something that undoubtedly needs addressing as the Trojans prepare for a potential spring season.

A Pac-12 coach wondered where USC football’s size and physicality has gone.

Athlon’s feature quoted Pac-12 coaches on how ASU is “closing the gap” on USC, Cal is a “sneaky-good team,” and UCLA has “been flat ever since” beating USC in 2018. One coach even noted how Oregon is “starting to reach for that Pete Carroll USC quality of offensive and defensive linemen.”

It’s a comment about USC offensive and defensive linemen that should have Trojan fans worried.

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“Neither line looks like they should,” the anonymous coach said. “It’s USC. Where is the size and physicality? That’s the one area where they still look like something is really wrong.”

Indeed, the performance of USC’s bodies in the trenches has been lacking for years. Not since 2016 have the Trojans fielded a team with a dominant offensive and defensive line. All-Americans Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler led the former while Rasheem Green and Stevie Tui’kolovatu set the tone on defense.

The 2017 lines had their moments, but neither side was good enough in 2018 or 2019. Last year, the offensive line was frustratingly inconsistent. The interior was dominated by BYU and the edges were rattled against Oregon.

The defensive line seemingly has all the talent to succeed, but their output in 2019 left a lot to be desired. They ranked in the bottom 30 nationally in line yards, opportunity rate and stuff rate. Those are critical stats from Football Outsiders which measure the performance of a defensive line against the run.

So that anonymous coach isn’t being unfair unless you want to point out how size is the least of the Trojans’ problems. Physicality and, most of all, coaching has been undoubtedly lacking.

Whenever the 2020 season is played, it will be a major test of Tim Drevno’s ability to build a more competitive offensive line. He lost tackles Austin Jackson and Drew Richmond but returns the bodies necessary to succeed. Alijah Vera-Tucker, Jalen McKenzie, Brett Neilon and company have more in the tank.

The greatest level of change could be hoped for on the defensive line. The Trojans have welcomed Vic So’oto from Virginia to take over that unit. He was extremely well respected by the Cavalier community and appears to be a rising star. However, he’s still largely unproven. Taking USC’s talented-but-struggling defensive line to the next level is his opportunity to make waves.

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As another anonymous Pac-12 coach said, “This is still an athletic defense.”

The Trojans should expect far more from both sides of the trenches.

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