USC will be without two of its most talented linebackers this season, as head coach Clay Helton announced Friday morning that both Jordan Iosefa and Solomon Tuliaupupu will undergo knee surgeries and miss the 2020 season.
It’s another gut-wrenching blow for Tuliaupupu, who has missed the previous two seasons due to a foot injury. Helton said his foot is fine, but the knee issue is a completely separate one.
“That’s what makes it so heartbreaking, because it’s the best he’s felt in two years and was feeling really good with his foot,” Helton said. “I’m pretty heartbroken over it because i know the amount of work he’s put in to have the chance to have his foot well.”
Tuliaupupu will have surgery today and Helton said he will have more of an update later in the week.
Iosefa’s surgery will be a scope, according to Helton, as the redshirt senior has some scar tissue from the knee surgeries he had last season that will be cleaned up.
Helton said that in a normal season, the Trojans might try to get Iosefa back for part of the year.
“He’s got one year and we want him to be able to have the best experience possible for him,” Helton said. “He’s been a team captain here. He’s been a leader here. He continues to be that, each and every day. We’re going to get that thing exactly right for him so in his last year he can have the best experience possible.”
This is a major blow to the linebacker depth chart, even though the Trojans played without both players last season. The expectation was that Iosefa–who was a captain last season–could return to his middle linebacker position to help lead the defense, while Tuliaupupu would push hard for playing time and potentially a starting spot as well. Now, the Trojans will be looking at a depth chart to try to find answers for the middle of coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense.
“From a linebacker standpoint, we entered the fall looking pretty good,” Helton said. “That takes away from your depth, but there’s still some really, really quality players. I think of EA (Palaie Gaoteote). I think of Ralen [Goforth], a Tuasivi [Nomura], a Kana’i [Mauga]. We have men there, but when you talk about the quality, not only on defense but also special teams, of a Solo that could have helped out, a Jordan Iosefa–those are losses, and those are losses that are going to provide an opportunity for other people to step up.”
The Trojans will also be without inside linebacker Eli’jah Winston for the immediate future, as he is still rehabbing from surgery on his ankle and won’t practice with the team right now. USC already needed to replace middle linebacker John Houston Jr., who was a consistent presence in the middle for them throughout the 2019 season.
USC opens fall camp today, and begins its football season with a home game on Nov. 7 at 9 am against Arizona State.