Plenty of what took place during USC’s 15 spring ball practices went exactly to plan. Quarterback Caleb Williams was great. Safety Calen Bullock made plays consistently. And the newcomer transfers made impacts everywhere they lined up. But there were still a handful of surprising developments this spring that look like they’ll have an impact on what happens this fall.
Offensive Line Newcomers
It’s not surprising that Michael Tarquin and Jarrett Kingston immediately stepped into the starting lineup upon their arrivals at USC. The Trojans had multiple spots along the offensive line that needed to be filled by capable veterans. Left tackle was open due to the departure of Bobby Haskins and the injury status of Courtland Ford. Left guard was open due to the departure of Andrew Vorhees. And either right guard or right tackle was open with Justin Dedich moving to center and Jonah Monheim likely settling in at one of those two spots.
When Tarquin and Kingston were initially announced, their future positions with the Trojans looked pretty well set. Tarquin spent 728 of his 802 offensive snaps with the Florida Gators at right tackle. Kingston spent 546 of his 547 offensive snaps with the Washington State Cougars in 2022 at left tackle.
So it certainly appeared that Kingston would settle in at left tackle and Tarquin at right tackle. Monheim would play right guard and Florida transfer Ethan White would settle in at left guard when he arrived this summer. Except none of that happened.
Tarquin began at left tackle and that’s where he started the spring game. And despite the best season of his Washington State career coming last season at left tackle, Kingston went straight into the interior of the line. He ultimately started the spring game at right guard.
And now the addition of former Wyoming lineman Emmanuel Pregnon adds more questions to how things will shake out. He took every one of his 625 offensive snaps last season at right guard. Does he make a move to left guard, where White was likely headed? Does Kingston flip to that side? Is Pregnon and his 6-foot-6, 312-pound frame more suited for offensive tackle?
It’s been interesting to go from three transfer portal commitments having such seemingly clear landing spots to now moving into the summer with still a bunch of questions to answer up front.
Although, one thing is for certain. The new additions mean USC is going to have an outstanding offensive line regardless of who lines up where.
Plenty has been made about the incoming defensive linemen. USC grabbed Kyon Barrs, Jack Sullivan and Anthony Lucas in time for spring ball. The Trojans then landed this window’s top available player in Bear Alexander. Those are four players who have an opportunity to start a lot of games for USC this fall.
But there was a surprise in just how well returning lineman Solomon Tuliaupupu played this spring. He ran at times with the first team at defensive end. He worked some at rush end. And he just kept making plays and impressing his teammates and coaches.
He absolutely showed some flashes last season with 2.5 sacks and 10 tackles while playing in all 14 games. But he has a chance this fall to officially go all the way from injury-prone washout as a top-100 recruit to a major, major contributor. There are already few stories in college football more inspiring than the one Tuliaupupu has already written after fighting through missing four years due to various injuries.
Following the spring game, Riley said Tuliaupupu has “definitely been one of the standouts of spring.”
Riley said Tuliaupupu did everything last year based on guts, power and tenacity. But after a full year on the field and working along the defensive line, he’s been able to improve so much on his technique.
“You’re starting to see him become more refined as a player,” Riley said. “And with that, he’s able to win in different ways. He’s affecting the game more right now. He’s been one of our steadiest but also most explosive players on the edge.”
The new defensive linemen are nice, and USC absolutely needed that infusion of talent up front. But if USC’s defense is going to be much better this fall, getting significantly improved play from the returners and forming a legitimate two or three-deep along the line will be one of the biggest reasons.
Freshmen Running Backs
There wasn’t any doubt that incoming transfer running back MarShawn Lloyd would make an immediate impact and be firmly in the mix as a potential starter by the end of spring.
They were going to be solid pieces to round out the depth chart while the veterans battled for the top three spots. Except, nobody told that to the freshmen.
Joyner wasn’t just good. He was one of the most consistent playmakers for the USC offense all spring. Riley singled him out a few times as a guy who made big plays whenever he stepped on the field. And Joyner proved it during the spring game.
There’s a lot to like about Peterson’s build and what he can do athletically. He showed that with a little wiggle on one of his spring game runs, and then the highlight when he leapt over a would-be tackler in the open field.
But there was a surprising amount of buzz about Joyner this spring. And it’s to the point where he appears poised to potentially carve out a serious role for himself in the offense this fall.