One day after USC suffered a big blow to its offensive line, as left tackle Austin Jackson announced he would forgo his senior season, two Trojan position groups received positive news on Thursday evening, when wide receiver Tyler Vaughns and defensive tackle Jay Tufele announced they would be returning to USC for the 2020 season.
Vaughns will be back for his redshirt senior season, and has a real shot at leaving USC as the schools all-time receptions leader. Vaughns’ 189 receptions already has him ninth in USC history, and with 64 receptions in 2020, he’ll pass Robert Woods for the Trojans’ all-time mark. In the past three seasons, Vaughns has caught 57, 58 and 74 passes. He’ll need a massive year to catch Marqise Lee as the programs all-time leader in receiving yards. Lee compiled 3,655 yards through the air in just his three seasons at USC. Vaughns would need 1,260 yards in 2020 to tie Lee.
Vaughns will have an opportunity to step up as a senior the way Michael Pittman did this past fall. Pittman showed up for spring ball as the clear leader of the receivers and delivered a huge senior season, finishing with 101 receptions for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The wide receiver group is strong, with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Drake London back, and with true freshmen Kyle Ford, Munir McClain, John Jackson III and Bru McCoy ready to take steps forward in their second seasons. But getting a steady, veteran presence in Vaughns back will go a long way toward keeping this unit the most dangerous in the conference, and one of the best in the country.
On the defensive side, the Trojans simply couldn’t afford to lose Jay Tufele this year. Only a redshirt sophomore, Tufele still has two years of eligibility remaining, though he’s unlikely to stay at USC for the 2021 season.
In his three years thus far, Tufele has turned into a bright spot on the USC defensive line. He finished the 2019 season with 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks, and was consistently praised by defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a for the work he did that didn’t always show up on the stat sheet.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Tufele posted 23 tackles and three sacks, and also returned a fumble 48 yards for a touchdown at Utah. As a true freshman in 2017, Tufele was named USC’s Co-Defensive Service Team Player of the Year.
The Trojans have used a three-man rotation for the most part on the interior of the defensive line, with Tufele teaming with Marlon Tuipulotu and Brandon Pili. And while Tuipulotu and Pili are scheduled to return, losing Tufele would have been a significant blow to the overall talent level of the line, and to the line’s depth. With Tufele back, the Trojans can continue to develop the depth behind him, without asking a backup to take on a prominent role in 2020. Nick Figueroa saw some time and should be able to contribute more as a redshirt junior in 2020, and Stanley Ta’ufo’ou could see some action after he played in three games while using a redshirt year as he made the transition to the defensive line as a true freshman in 2019.
Tufele’s return also means the Trojans could bring back nine starters on that side of the ball, as USC only loses defensive end Christian Rector and linebacker John Houston Jr. to graduation.