Simply put, there was not a unit that excelled for the Trojans during the 2018 season. But the offensive line took the brunt of the blame for on-field issues, as a starting lineup featuring three seniors just could never quite put things together consistently enough to wear down defenses or establish much of a rhythm.
Looking at the numbers, according to Football Outsiders, in stats such as Line Yards per Carry, Power Success Rate, Stuff Rate, Sack Rate, and five other metrics that give an idea as to the success of the offensive line, USC finished no better than 46th in any of the nine categories, with an average ranking of 82 (including three categories ranking in the triple digits). For comparison, Alabama ranked no worse than 38th in any category, and finished six categories in the top ten.
The offensive line looked to be set from the opening snap this past spring, as Austin Jackson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Brett Neilon, Andrew Vorhees, and Jalen McKenzie took virtually every first-team snap together when they were all healthy and present. That’s a group that knows each other well, as they all entered USC together as part of the 2017 recruiting class. There were some issues early, as the group struggled whenever the defense introduced more exotic looks and pressure packages. But the line came together well by the end of spring, and looks as though it could be a solid unit this fall.
Of course, questions won’t truly be answered until the regular season begins, and perhaps even then not until games against Utah, Washington, and Notre Dame. But snaps were seldom an issue this spring compared to last fall, and the Air Raid system should give the line the benefit of eliminating the confusion that comes with complex blocking schemes and taking away the need to block for an extended period due to long-developing plays.
What was missing a bit this spring was the feeling of true competition along the line. Redshirt senior Clayton Bradley missed almost all of spring with a back injury, missing a chance to push either presumptive starting tackle. Former defensive tackle Liam Jimmons flipped to the offensive line and settled in at backup right tackle. I don’t know if Jimmons is going to push for a starting spot this year, but the development there looked promising through spring ball, and getting a full summer session and fall camp there should help him further.
The biggest addition to the line came in the form of graduate transfer Drew Richmond, who will make his way to USC from Tennessee. The massive tackle has plenty of starting experience in the SEC and will likely be given every opportunity to push McKenzie at right tackle, or even spell Jackson a bit on the left side.
At guard, we saw a nice step up from redshirt freshman Liam Douglass, who is filling out his frame and brings a real edge to his game. We will see if Jacob Daniel and Frank Martin can continue improving to perform as serviceable backups, as both will likely see the field at times this fall.
Center is probably the most secure position along the line, as Neilon and his backup, Justin Dedich, were terrific this spring. While Neilon held the starting spot throughout spring, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dedich continue to push him, and perform well enough to play in some capacity this season.
Early enrollee freshman Gino Quinones settled in at center and looks like he could be a developmental prospect down the line.
Two more offensive linemen are scheduled to join the team this fall, as Jason Rodriguez and Tilini Livai signed with the Trojans in the 2019 recruiting class. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them start out at guard, while Rodriguez also has the potential to play tackle.
Looking at the 2020 recruiting class, the offensive line is an important position and USC does not have a commitment there yet. Interior lineman Myles Murao (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) is arguably at the top of the list among local prospects, while tackle Connor McLaughlin (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit) is a national target. A handful of West region offers have gone out recently, to prospects such as Bruno Fina (Tucson, Ariz./Salpointe Catholic), Levi Rogers (Woodinville, Wash./Woodinville), Kilian Zierer (Valencia, Calif./College of the Canyons), Andres Dewerk (Los Gatos, Calif./Los Gatos), Joey Wright (Reno, Nev./Bishop Manogue), Caadyn Stephen (Camas, Wash./Camas), and Jacob Nunez (Lompoc, Calif./Lompoc).